Sustainability, Part II: A Proposal to Foundations

What to Avoid.  The Project should not lose its identity in any such coalition.  Indeed, there might be different coalitions, most of them transient, on specific issues.  The history of environmental coalitions (including the Global Tomorrow Coalition cited above) suggests that coalitions function best when they are pulled together more or less briefly to achieve specific legislative or policy goals.

If the Project does not keep its own identity, it runs the danger of being coopted by those with other agendas such as feminist goals or social justice.  Such agendas may be valid in themselves and potentially they could make a contribution to sustainability, but those advocates have already shown themselves capable of coopting the population movement.  Sustainability will not get very far if the Project is diverted from its central issue.

There is another reason for my advice to create coalitions but not lose oneself in them:  the demonstrated reluctance of U.S. environmental groups to take on the causes of population growth.  High immigration and differential fertility are two of the most controversial topics in the United States, but they are precisely the ones that must be addressed if our future population size is to be the product of the national will rather than accident.  It would be a calamity for the population cause if the Sustainability Project were held hostage by its “allies” and reduced to silence on the most important decisions.

This does not exhaust the possibilities.  I have emphasized that a population policy is central to the achievement of sustainability, but the “Sustainability Project” might well trade its support for other projects in exchange for support on population issues.  For a few examples: it could endorse environmentally sound building techniques, or benign industrial processes, or better waste handling (the nation produces far more tons of waste each year than economic goods), or more stringent rules on recycling.

There might be room for cooperating with groups at the state and local levels of decision—making, but I have yet to figure this possibility out.

“Sustainability”, properly used, is an exciting idea.  It can be the vehicle for moving the United States away from unthinking reliance on laissez-faire — which presently is driving the country in dangerous directions — toward a systematic way of recognizing our obligations to future generations, establishing our social goals, understanding how they relate to each other, and successfully pursuing them.

Notes

  1. For a full description of this failure, see my NPG Forum paper “The Timid Crusade” (Washington, DC: Negative Population Growth, Inc., 1994.) Since then (in 1996), the Sierra Club has moved farther from a population policy by passing a formal Board resolution that it will not address immigration.  The Wilderness Society, on the other hand, has adopted a resolution taking note of the adverse impact of Immigration on its goals.
  2. Summaries of the Council’s work are available at http://www.whitehouse.gov/PCSD. Full texts of its reports and those of its task forces are available at http://www.sustainable.doe.gov.  See also NPG Booknote “Population and the PCSD” (Washington, DC: Negative Population Growth, Inc., April 1996).  NPG Forum articles, Footnotes and Booknotes are available from NPG, and full texts are carried on its Internet site: http://www.npg.org.
  3. A detailed look at foresight proposals through 1987 is available in my Foresight and National Decisions: the Horseman and the Bureaucrat (University Press of America, 1988; available at the World Future Society bookstore, Bethesda, MD; 800-989-8274.)

Lindsey Grant

Lindsey Grant is a retired Foreign Service Officer; he was a China specialist and served as Director of the Office of Asian Communist Affairs, National Security Council staff member, and Department of State policy Planning staff member. As Deputy Secretary of State for Environmental and Population Affairs, he was Department of State coordinator for the Global 2000 Report to the President, Chairman of the interagency committee on Int'l Environmental Committee and US member of the UN ECE Committee of Experts on the Environment. His books include: Too Many People, Juggernaut, The Horseman and the Bureaucrat, Elephants in Volkswagen, How Many Americans?

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