Scientific Possibilities Generate Options and Doubts
In the special issue "Directions in Science," Jan. 2, the article "New Legal Tools Needed to Preserve the Earth," asks the question who will pay to keep the world's environment safe.
The only possible sources of funds for environmental protection are the economic factors of production: land, labor, and capital. Any program to pay for environmental protection will have the economic effect of maintaining, if not increasing, the value of land in the hands of its current owners. Certainly, how we decide to pay to save Earth's environment should not result in the economic benefit of land and natural-resource owners at the expense of the great mass of laboring people.
We might solve this dilemma by making assessments against land value worldwide. In that way, those who stand to benefit directly from environmental programs will pay for them. A world land-value tax would be a new legal "tool" of the kind called for in the article, and it would also make our economic systems ascribe a value greater than zero to a clean environment. Cathe Smeland, San Francisco
Regarding the article "New Legal Tools Needed to Preserve Earth," Jan. 2: Who will pay for preservation of the environment is a question worth serious discussion. The author points out that the world system is not really a free market and that the market has failed. Yet, there are no economic or legal tools for solving ecological problems. The more the environment is written about, the more pressure the world leaders will have pushing them to make international agreements. Jerrold S. Flemming, Salem, Ore.
The article "Communications Advances Raise Privacy Concerns," Jan. 2, is valuable. I like its principles, but an example the author uses is poor.
One of the author's standards for guaranteeing communication privacy is: "Consistency so that broad ideals, rather than specific characteristics of a technology, determine privacy protection." The example given is that tuning a short-wave radio to a transmission from a cordless phone would be equivalent to overhearing a corded phone conversation.
Not so. The person tuning in with a radio could be using a retail product in its normal manner. A person listening in on a corded phone would have to tap a wire, install a device, or otherwise do something for the sole purpose of eavesdropping. I question the equivalence in this example, not the need for privacy. Thomas E. Wulling, St. Paul, Minn.
Many of the articles in the "Directions in Science" issue seem to me overly optimistic on the probable benefits to mankind of technology in general, but the ones on "space colonies" are so improbable as to be ludicrous.
The prediction that we will have such colonies within 100 years, including vast solar power plants sending energy to Earth, ignores the enormous political, fiscal, safety, and engineering problems involved in the construction, supply, and operation of such colonies.
In the 1960s and '70s we attempted to send four teams of three men each for very short stays on the moon. Two of these teams got there and back safely. A third team survived a propulsion explosion and were able to circle the moon and return safely. The fourth team was killed in a cabin explosion. The cost was over $1 billion per man successfully completing the mission. Even a thousand-fold reduction in cost and improved safety would not make such colonies practical, unlikely as they are. C. Fayette Taylor, Weston, Mass., Professor Emeritus, M.I.T.