Social Education 55(5) pp. 295
©1991 National Council for the Social Studies

Alarming Report on Much Abused Planet Earth

William Hartman
It was no small irony that Noel Brown did not refer to the environmental holocaust that Saddam Hussein unleashed when Brown spoke to some 300 NGO delegates in the auditorium of the Dag Hammarskjold Library on February 21, 1991, just as the Persian Gulf War was ending. He was reporting on environmental issues facing the United Nations today. There are so many that the deliberate setting of 600-800 oil fields on fire and creating the largest oil spill in world history failed to come under Brown's purview.
Brown, a Jamaican, is the director of the North American Regional Office of the UN Environmental Program. Like so many other UN civil servants I have heard, I was impressed with his competence, his mastery of his subject, and his ability to communicate with others. He focused on the just concluded Washington conference on climate change and global warming.

This first-of-its-kind international conference, attended by representatives of over 100 nations, turned out to be largely organizational, with two working groups set up to seek financial commitments from nations and to set goals.

The delegates met against an alarming background of climatic change. The earth has managed to maintain a constant range of temperature for aeons. However, since the Industrial Revolution, the rate of temperature change has been rising 1 percent per century. Now the threat is 1 percent per decade-a result of increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and methane released into the atmosphere.

The conference proceedings were fraught with dire predictions: higher than ever velocity winds leading to an increase of hurricanes; a rise in tidal levels; windblown erosion; and the melting of the polar cap that would threaten low-lying lands, with Bangladesh in danger of losing 40 percent of its land. The problem of water vapor migration would make some lands dry and others wet-the greenhouse effect appears to be increasing in its intensity.

Brown spoke vigorously, even passionately, about the urgency of the problem. He said that the international community apparently has not sensed this urgency and cited that the United States has expressed a reluctance to set goals. Unless international agreements occur by 1992, he believes that the dire predictions might become a reality.

Science and industry need to help governments in their efforts. For example, can a genetic strain of dry rice be developed so that methane, produced by wet rice cultivation, can be eliminated as a greenhouse gas? We need to help by joining environmental organizations that can keep the pressure on politicians for action. A prediction of the planet becoming like a Dante's "Inferno" has been given more substance in early April of 1991, with the report that more ozone over the United States has been depleted than previously thought. Time is not on our side.

William Hartman of Great Neck, New York, is NCSS Nongovernmental Organization Delegate to the United Nations.