[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.]
“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. (http://www.MAweb.org). 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.
Stephen Alfred Forbes Professor of Zoology
Center for Limnology
University of Wisconsin
Madison, Wisconsin 53706 USA”