Some advice to the President-elect on the state of the world

earth.gif[Below is a letter making the rounds on the internet from Professor Steve Carpenter, an eminent ecologist at the University of Wisconsin, offering advice to President-elect Obama on the importance of serious and prompt environmental action as he begins his presidency. The text of the letter and a petition you can sign (for whatever that is worth) in support of its goals can be found here.]

November 2008

“Dear President-Elect Obama,

Congratulations on your election, which has created a sense of optimism in America that has never occurred before in my lifetime.

Yet earth’s life support systems have deteriorated more in our lifetimes than in any other era of human history. With earth’s population increasing, and consumption per person growing much faster than population, humans are heating the climate, polluting air and water, degrading landscapes and turning coastal oceans to dead zones. America’s food supply depends on a few fragile crops, grown using practices that degrade soil, air and water to yield foods of low nutritional value that harm our health. The U.S. is not investing in the education and innovation needed to create agriculture and energy technologies that can get us through the 21st century. Details are found in a consensus report of more than 1300 leading scientists from more than 90 nations including the U.S. ( These findings support the following priorities for your presidency.

Decrease America’s dependency on coal and oil and increase the supply of energy from non-polluting technologies: We must decrease emission of greenhouse gases, and the era of cheap oil is over. We must accelerate development of clean energy technologies using wind, sun and tides. These investments must be based on scientific information to avoid bogus remedies, such as grain biofuels, that sound good but do not in fact solve the problem. We must increase conservation through better buildings, efficient transportation, and renewal of industry. We must improve agriculture and forestry practices to reduce energy consumption and increase carbon storage in soil.

Stop subsidizing agriculture that destroys land, water and health. Create incentives for agriculture that maintains land and water resources and yields healthy food: Agriculture must shift to practices that use less energy for tillage and transport of food, produce healthy food for local consumption, train more people in diverse farming practices, build soil instead of degrading and eroding it, and maintain clean water and air. These reforms can be accomplished by reforming federal subsidies.

Have a population policy: In global impact, the U.S. is the world’s most overpopulated nation, mainly because of our high per-capita consumption. Our population is growing rapidly. Global population growth is a key driver of degraded land, water, air and climate. Education of women is a powerful lever to restrain population growth. If all the world’s women are educated to high-school level, human impact on our life-support system will be more than 30% lower by 2050. As a father of daughters, it is especially appropriate for you to support education for all of the world’s women.

Invest in the education and innovation needed to create a society that could thrive in the 21st century and beyond: Even though our universities and research centers are the envy of the world, science education of the general population of the U.S. is weak and must be made stronger. Education must be reformed to encourage creativity. There are enormous opportunities for innovations in agriculture, energy, and infrastructure that will lead to a moderate climate, rich landscapes, and clean air and water into the future. These technological opportunities are being seized by other nations while the U.S. lags behind. We must restore American leadership in creating technology that maintains our life support system while providing the energy, food and shelter that people need.

Sincerely yours,

Steve Carpenter

Stephen Alfred Forbes Professor of Zoology
Center for Limnology
University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin 53706 USA”

About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
This entry was posted in Politics, Science, Sustainability. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Some advice to the President-elect on the state of the world

  1. Marian says:

    “Education of women is a powerful lever to restrain population growth. If all the world’s women are educated to high-school level, human impact on our life-support system will be more than 30% lower by 2050”

    You know I could probably stomach most of your letter,and not agree, but the above quote is offensive.

  2. Emmett Duffy says:

    Sorry you feel that way Marian.  Perhaps ironically, this issue is really about women’s right to self-determination. What I understand Dr. Carpenter to be referring to is the plight of women in many underdeveloped nations, where lack of education severely limits their options generally, and more specifically constrains them in situations where  they have little or no control over the number of children they have. Often in such situations, women have more children than they would do voluntarily.

    It has been a very clear global trend through modern history that birthrate declines in societies with higher per capita income and education. Education is better for everyone, but it is especially beneficial to women, who have often been deprived of it, intentionally or otherwise, in underdeveloped countries, and who have a special importance as the center of the family in many societies. Many experts have argued that improving the situation of women is a key to achieving a sustainable human population.

  3. Marian says:

    Emmett , no worries,I have been offended before, the plight of mankind and the subsequent consequences is bigger than assigning responsibility to one gender or another. However I guess we do that with every issue don’t we. If it is not gender, it is creed or race, I left out politics intentionally.

  4. Sarah says:

    It’s funny, that bit about educating women was what really struck a chord with me, but in a positive way. Expanding discussion of the broader topic beyond the enormously divisive issue of whether those of us in the developed/industrial world are for or against reproductive choice will be very important. I’ve long thought that education is the key in this area. I’m okay with people making the choices that are right for them, and I accept that we’ll all decide things a little bit differently from each other. But at least give people the information they need so that they can at least try to make, well, informed decisions.

  5. Emmett Duffy says:

    Hi Sarah. Yes, it seems like a no-brainer to me.

  6. F Khatri says:

    I think the economic crisis is the major issue at the moment than any other issue. What he does to resolve this issue will be the thing to see

  7. Pofticiosi says:

    Yes Khatri, everybody is worried economic crisis, and let’s say that the country makes it through this tough time, and this generation can continue it’s consumption-based lifestyle. What will happen to our children and grandchildren?

  8. b10 says:

    I really agree with most of these points, but not with this:
    “Education of women is a powerful lever to restrain population growth. If all the world’s women are educated to high-school level, human impact on our life-support system will be more than 30% lower by 2050”
    In my country there is not interdiction about birth of children for every woman – educated or not.
    May be you will force to do abortion then?
    Sorry for my bad english.

  9. Emmett Duffy says:

    b10: The argument about education lowering birth rate is mainly on a large, country-level scale. That is, in countries where education for girls and women was formerly lacking (as is still true in many places) and then instituted on a large scale, there has often been a decline in birth rate as the options for women and their quality if life expanded.