THE MX debate is being tied firmly and regrettably to the talks in Geneva. Mr. Reagan has suggested that a congressional vote against the MX would be unpatriotic and would show a lack of resolve on the part of the United States to maintain an adequate defense. There is room for disagreement. Webster defines a patriot as ``one who loves his country and zealously supports its authority and interests.'' A vote against the MX is not unpatriotic for several reasons.
The final authority of this country rests with the people. The MX has not been shown to have the support of the public. Polls show that a quick halt to the arms race is supported by a majority of the people.
Further, weapons experts have repeatedly stated that the MX is not a viable addition to our defense system. MX basing plans have been abandoned one after another. Now the President would hide the MX in Minuteman silos whose vulnerability helped lead to the idea of an alternative in the first place.
Analysts have concluded that the obvious use of MX would be a first use because the missiles would not survive a Soviet attack. First-strike weapons do not increase security or our ability to defend anybody. They force the enemy to a hair-trigger response, unbalance deterrence, and make everyone concerned nervous.
Nor is the MX a ``peacekeeper.'' Fifty billion dollars for the MX is too much to spend on increasing our danger. One dollar is too much.
Neither should the MX be built to be a bargaining chip. As Mr. Nitze and Mr. Reagan have stated, the MX will not be bargained away. Has any weapon ever been, once authorized?
We have the capability and the resolve to defend ourselves and our friends, if necessary, many times over without the MX, and the Russians know it. What voting down the MX will say to them is that we are resolved to stop spending money and resources on machines that don't add to our ability to defend. It will say to them that we are resolved to step back from the abyss by ending an arms race that has not established real security for anybody but has consumed their and our money, resources, talents, and hope.
There are times when leadership requires leading in a new direction and refusing to continue on a course that is leading to disaster. Now is such a time.
The nuclear threat is absorbing energy, resources, and concentration that we cannot afford. Other problems threaten the survival of life on this planet as seriously, although not so dramatically or imminently. Our war with the earth is increasing the tensions that lead to war with each other and it demands our full attention.
In the US alone, we are losing 4 billion to 5 billion tons of topsoil each year. Aquifers are being dried up. Toxic wastes are making our land unlivable and our water undrinkable. Nuclear wastes accumulate with no safe storage place. Atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide threatens climates. Acid rain is destroying lake and forest ecosystems across northern Europe and North America. Marine fisheries are dwindling. Tropical forests are disappearing at a rate of two acres per second. Grasslands are becoming desert with almost the same devastating speed. And genetic diversity is being mono-cultured into fragile genetic uniformity.
The driving force behind this war against the planet -- growth of populations and of appetites for resources -- is widespread. We are exceeding the limits of the earth's carrying capacity. If we do not equitably come to grips with growth and its effects soon, nature will find less caring ways to impose limits to growth on us: witness Africa.
Some solutions to the many survival problems we face are known and feasible. They need to be implemented and augmented. We can refocus our energies and resources away from such wastes as the MX, turning instead toward rescuing the essential elements of real security. Otherwise, environmental collapse may well bring us to the final war over resources and livable space. And who would object if the superpowers were to unite in ending the war against the earth rather than risk destroying it in the course of annihilating each other?
David R. Brower is chairman of the Second Biennial Conference on the Fate of the Earth.