Global 2000 Revised: an optimistic look at world prospects

Three years after publication of the Carter administration's environmentally gloomy report, Global 2000, 20 nongovernmental experts have issued a stinging rebuttal.

They call it Global 2000 Revised.

The original report saw current ecological, economic, and population trends, if uncorrected, heading toward global disaster. The new study sees these trends as pointed toward a better environment and greater human well being.

As economist Julian L. Simon of the University of Illinois and co-author of the new report's summary introduction explained: ''In brief, . . . Global 2000 suggested that the world situation with respect to resources and the environment had been deteriorating. We find that not to be true.''

He added that authors of the new study do see massive challenges ahead for humankind. But they expect people to solve these problems, not succumb to them.

In presenting the new study at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Dr. Simon's coauthor, Herman Kahn of the Hudson Institute, said he and Dr. Simon had been angered and dismayed at the alarmist tone of the Carter administration document. He and Dr. Simon characterized the widely-distributed Global 2000 report summary as a politically motivated document aimed at justifying substantial government control over environmental monitoring and the exploitation and distribution of natural resources. He added that in the new study, ''We have attempted to depoliticize a series of fields that should never have been politicized.''

However, to judge from initial reaction at the conference, the Global 2000 Revised summary is also likely to be seen as a political document aimed at justifying less government intervention and more private enterprise in tackling environmental and resource problems.

Richard Evans Schultes, director of the Botanical Museum at Harvard University, sent a letter to the conference denouncing the new study as naive and so lacking in data to back its conclusions as to be unscientific. Dr. Simon read the letter at the beginning of the session on the new report.

George E. McCully, vice-president of Earthwatch and director of its Center for Field Research, characterized the Simon-Kahn summary statement as needlessly angry. He admitted that the Global 2000 projections were based on little hard data as, he said, is the present study. The issue is not the correctness of predictions, he explained. ''The issue is do we have a problem or not and what is the most constructive thing to do about the problem,'' he said. ''And for that, you don't need to be angry.''

Where Simon called the Global 2000 report wrong, Dr. McCully said he finds the new ''optimistic'' conclusions equally wrong. The two reports reflect two sets of ''conflicting viewpoints, neither of which is founded in . . . adequate evidence,'' he said. The need, he added, is to recognize the urgency in getting better knowledge of where the world is heading and taking appropriate action.

Authors of the current study repeat earlier criticism of the Global 2000 summary as being distorted by bureaucratic editing which at times contradicted what was said in the factual document on which it drew. Simon and Kahn emphasize that, in the new study, each of the experts retains authority over his or her contribution. Indeed, this was evident at the meeting. Some of the individual authors appeared to distance themselves from the polemical tone of the summary. One such expert is Helmut Landsberg, an eminent climatologist at the University of Maryland. He said he wanted to bring balance to discussions of possible climatic change because he sees no evidence for substantial change at all. But, he added, he does not agree with all that other participants in the study are saying. He also noted that, in making his contribution to the study, which is supported financially by The Heritage Foundation, he has felt free from any censorship pressures.

Thus it seems that the debate about where the world is headed is shaping up as a political dispute between those who wish more government intervention in resource management and those who put their faith in individual initiative and private enterprise.

Meanwhile, as McCully notes, the basic need to learn better where the world actually is heading is in danger of neglect.

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