Cautious arms control
William F. Burns’ “The Unfinished Work of Arms Control” (Issues, Fall 1997) summarizes the key points of one side of the debate over the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War world. I believe that some of the measures Burns and others have advocated will have the unintended effect of increasing the likelihood that weapons of mass destruction will be used against the United States or our troops deployed abroad. By adopting a permanent ban on underground nuclear testing and foreswearing the possibility of first use of nuclear weapons, the United States will greatly undermine the value of its nuclear deterrent.
Our experience in the Gulf War shows how the current policy, which allows for the possibility that the United States would use nuclear weapons to respond to a nonnuclear attack, saved lives by deterring such an attack. Before the war, President Bush, Secretary of Defense Cheney, and other senior officials warned Iraq that if it used chemical or biological weapons, the U.S. response would be “absolutely overwhelming” and “devastating.” Iraqi officials later confirmed that these statements deterred Iraq from using chemical and biological weapons, because Baghdad had interpreted U.S. threats of devastating retaliation as meaning nuclear retaliation.
It stands to reason that for this first-use threat to hold water, the United States needs to maintain a credible nuclear capability. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which has been submitted to the Senate for ratification, prohibits underground nuclear testing and will substantially undermine the safety and reliability of our nuclear arsenal. Over time, nuclear materials and high-explosive triggers in our weapons deteriorate and we do not have experience in predicting the effects of such degradation. The fact that U.S. nuclear weapons are the most sophisticated in the world, coupled with the need to maintain the highest safety standards, means that our arsenal requires frequent testing to ensure that our weapons operate reliably.
To maintain the U.S. nuclear stockpile, the Clinton administration has developed a program that relies on computer simulations in lieu of actual nuclear tests. This program faces enormous technical challenges, as confirmed by the director of Sandia National Laboratories who testified last year that, “Another hundred-to-thousand-fold increase in capability from hardware and software combined will be required” to adequately maintain our nuclear arsenal.
The United States should be careful to resist the tendency in peacetime to adopt feel-good measures such as a ban on the first use of nuclear weapons and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Both would jeopardize our security as naively as did the Kellog-Briand Pact outlawing war. As long as the United States retains a sound, credible arsenal of nuclear weapons, the Saddam Husseins of the world will have to think twice before unleashing weapons of mass destruction against the United States or our allies. This is the value of nuclear deterrence.
School politics are local
I read with great interest Richard F. Elmore’s”The Politics of Education Reform” (Issues, Fall 1997). I have served for over 20 years in the U.S. House of Representatives and have been involved in the development of legislation ranging from the Improving America’s Schools Act to the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act to the Higher Education Act. So although Elmore has observed the politics of education reform, I have experienced firsthand the endless arguments over what is best for our nation’s children.
I have also spent over half of my life in public education. I have been a teacher, counselor, principal, superintendent, school board president, and most important, a parent. From that experience, I can state that education has been, and always will be, a local issue. The notion of local control of schools is not “largely inaccurate and outmoded,” as Elmore states. In fact, the real reforms of education are occurring at the local level and at best are only remotely influenced by the debate at the national level.
President Clinton has proposed national tests of reading and math. This endeavor would cost the United States $100 million annually. That money could hire thousands of teachers to relieve the overcrowding of classrooms or provide computers for inner-city schools or training for teachers. The federal government already spends over $500 million annually on tests. We don’t need another test to tell us that the same students are not achieving. What we need is to help those students achieve by putting more money into the classroom.
Elmore correctly states that “policy talk is influential in shaping public perceptions of the quality of schooling and what should be done about it . . . [but] policy talk hardly ever influences the deep-seated and enduring structures and practices of schooling.” I could not agree more with this statement. I have long said that any reforms that we make in Washington are worthless unless state and local people are committed to those reforms. We can open a door but we cannot make someone walk through the doorway.
Reforms in education are happening daily across this country at the local level. Reform has already occurred in the Bronx at the Young Adult Learning Academy (YALA), where out-of-school students banded together and demanded services. “They wanted an avenue of opportunity” notes the director of YALA. The program requires an 80% attendance rate from each student, and 90% of the students who complete the program go on to further training, school, or a full-time job. This was not a federal government reform but a local reform initiated by students and teachers.
In closing, let me reiterate that we should not be modest in our demands on schools, as Elmore suggests. We should be bold. As parents we should demand that all students are given an avenue of opportunity. But these demands should be made at the local not the federal level. It is the arrogance of Washington bureaucrats who think they know what is best for the students of Gettysburg, Atlanta, or Austin that has put us in this situation in the first place. In reality, it is the parent and teacher working together who know what is best.
The futures of the university
Everyone believes that in the next decades we will continue to witness substantial changes in the structure and practices of higher education. It is, however, difficult to forecast with confidence the detailed nature of these changes, since actual developments will depend on a host of factors, both external and internal to the university, as higher education searches for the most effective ways to meet its responsibilities in a new environment. It is easy to predict, however, that the stimuli for change will have different meanings for different institutions and disciplines, and that some institutions and disciplines will adapt adeptly, while others will not. In this context, “The Global University” (Issues, Fall 1997) by Philip Condit and R. Byron Pipes is a welcome stimulus to our thinking.
However, it seems to me that a richer set of possibilities exists than those implied by a model that has higher education transforming itself to resemble the latest adaptations of U.S. industry. Although there is little question that industry and higher education have a great deal to learn from each other, we both also have a great deal to learn from history. What our history suggests is that although U.S. industry and higher education have transformed themselves a number of times over the past century or so, the most interesting developments in higher education cannot be adequately characterized as attempts to make the nation’s colleges and universities more closely resemble or more exclusively serve industry. The private sector is of course the destination of the majority of higher education’s graduates, and it is essential that the nation’s colleges and universities serve their needs. However, this objective must be accommodated with a host of other serious obligations that the university is, quite appropriately, expected to fulfill. They include the education of students for other sectors; advanced research training; the development and preservation of knowledge; and serving as a constructive critic of existing arrangements in science, in business, and in society at large. There is precedent in our history for locating centers of learning where they can be of direct service; this was an important objective in the creation more than a century ago of the great state universities and land grant institutions with agricultural extension programs that worked directly with farmers to create an agricultural revolution. But one of the greatest strengths of our system of higher education has been its diversity. Although it seems quite plausible to me that the model suggested by Condit and Pipes, or something like it, will find a place in the higher education sector, I doubt that this or any other single model will turn out to be adequate for the full spectrum of responsibilities that higher education will carry. It seems to me that it would be more interesting to speculate on which of the various models that might play an important role in higher education’s future can find expression in a single institution, and which models, or combinations of models, will be the ones to which our best students and teachers will aspire.
As we think of the many valuable lessons we in higher education can learn from the exciting transformations currently taking place in industry and the new needs we all experience for a greater degree of lifelong access to higher education and a larger global perspective, it is well also to remind ourselves that the future still contains a great deal of uncertainty and that higher education is itself an industry that is shaped by a wide range of consumers, clients, and other interested parties, as well as by commitment and aspirations that, at least in some respects, distinguish it from other industries and other sectors of our society.
Philip Condit and R. Byron Pipes are right on target in their article about the need to restructure engineering education to better serve the rapidly changing nature of industry. There is little doubt that our colleges and universities must become global in scope. They must provide a continuum of educational services not only for the traditional students but for working professionals as well. And they must develop clearly articulated and acceptable standards for engineering education.
But one might even go beyond engineering education to suggest that the higher education enterprise itself is in the early stages of a major restructuring similar to that experienced by other industries such as health care, telecommunications, and energy. Like other social institutions, our universities must become more focused on those we serve. We must transform ourselves from teacher-centered to learner-centered institutions. Society will demand that we become far more affordable, providing educational opportunities within the resources of all citizens. In an age of knowledge, the need for advanced education and skills will require both a willingness to continue to learn throughout one’s life and a commitment on the part of our institutions to provide opportunities for lifelong learning. The concepts of student and alumnus will merge. Our highly partitioned system of education will blend increasingly into a seamless web in which primary and secondary education; undergraduate, graduate, and professional education; on-the-job training and continuing education; and lifelong enrichment become a continuum.
There also will be major changes in pedagogy as societal needs require us to shift from “just in case” paradigms, in which learning is concentrated in degree programs in the hope it will be of use later; to “just in time” learning, where education and training are provided when and where they are needed; to “just for you” learning, in which customized educational services are provided to meet the particular needs of students.
Although all of this is quite consistent with the models suggested by Condit and Pipes, I also believe that the pervasive educational needs of our society, its people, and its institutions will require entirely new types of learning institutions that are set free from the constraints of space and time by emerging information technology. Already we have seen the emergence of virtual universities, designed to provide educational services to anyone at any time and any place, based on their career needs and lifestyles. For-profit educational providers such as the University of Phoenix are emerging to serve the needs of adult learners. And there are signs of an unbundling of higher education, with the emergence of organizations focusing on limited goals,such as packaging educational content, delivering educational services, or assessing learning outcomes.
Global industries are important clients of engineering education, and so too are individual students, state and federal government, and the host of professions now attracting engineering graduates. Hence, great diversity must continue to characterize engineering education if we are to respond to the needs of an increasingly knowledge-driven global society.
The vision of the global university put forth by Philip Condit and R. Byron Pipes is an interesting scenario; there certainly are trends at work today that give it a chilling sense of reality. The problem I have with it is that it is essentially a technocratic vision with a strong implied element of superiority and domination of some institutions and cultures by others. A small number of universities, presumably U.S.-based, with close ties to industry, will survive and thrive while those that remain more aloof from the call to serve industry will perish. What about the many other ways in which universities serve society? What about the local educational institutions in countries and cultures around the world? What about the body of knowledge that is of less direct relevance to the industrial bottom line, of which universities have traditionally been the keepers, creators, and passers-on? I for one would rather have an education in which I do not have to wait until I am 60 or 70 years old before I am exposed to “the kind of wide-ranging humanistic knowledge that leads to greater personal development,”which comes last in Condit and Pipes’ educational chronology.
There are exciting possibilities for using information technology in higher education and there is important and growing interaction and cooperation between universities and industry. But there are also separate and distinct roles and identities for these two institutions. Some educational elements of the Condit-Pipes scenario might best be undertaken by companies themselves. Universities owe their longevity and stability to some unique features, the most important of which are intellectual and academic freedom and tenure, as well as a good measure of independence. Current moves to erode these fundamental underpinnings are fraught with peril, not only for universities but for the larger society.
The global university of Condit and Pipes represents a limited approach for bringing a homogenized product to a small, albeit significant, slice of the world. Industry has great potential for continuing to improve the standard of living and the quality of life throughout the world. U.S. universities have made some valuable contributions to improving universities in developing countries. There is a role for some aspects of Condit and Pipes scenario, but the discussion of the mission, shape, and functions of the global university in this day and age needs international inputs as well as a vision that transcends technology and economics.
Agriculture and environment
Dennis T. Avery’s article raises a number of important development issues. As the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), I certainly agree that agricultural research is a valuable investment for the United States and that higher agricultural yields will reduce pressure on wildlife habitats. USAID has recently increased its emphasis on agricultural programs, and we are working to build back our capacity to advance research in this field. However, it must be noted that overall funding for U.S. foreign assistance programs has been extremely tight in recent years and that resource allocations-whether to agriculture, basic education, health, or any of the other sectors we work in-all come from a zero sum game. The Clinton administration has worked very hard to keep its support for these different, and mutually reinforcing, aspects of development balanced and integrated despite overall budget cuts.
In the same vein, we believe that a balanced approach is needed with regard to pesticide use and other environmental hazards. Although it is true that eliminating all pesticides is not realistic in the short run, there is excellent research being done that shows that we can both increase yields and cut pesticide use in many cases. The long-run goal should continue to be the elimination or sharp reduction of pesticide use. Future agricultural research must take account of the mounting evidence regarding environmental threats.
With regard to Avery’s comments on free trade, the Clinton administration agrees that free and fair trade is in the best interests of developed and developing nations alike. The administration has worked aggressively to expand free trade and the benefits of international investment. Built into this support for free trade is an understanding that trade policies should be sensitive to the environment and that sound environmental policies ultimately make good economic sense.
I would point out that Avery made what was probably an inadvertent error in his presentation of funding data. Avery stated that USAID previously provided 25 percent of the Consultive Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) budget, which is true. He also said that this level has since been reduced to “about 10 percent of USAID’s budget.” This should have read, “USAID now contributes about 10 percent of the CGIAR budget.”
As an environmentalist and chairman of a large coalition of organizations concerned with agricultural development and global food security, I heartily agree with Dennis T. Avery’s principal point-the urgent need to intensify global agricultural production (“Saving Nature’s Legacy Through Better Farming,” Issues, Fall 1997). I find one major fault in this article: Avery has not addressed the perplexing question of how to intensify agricultural production on the less-well-endowed lands cultivated by the millions of poor farmers in Africa and upland Asia and Latin America. These are the places where the forests, which we both believe must be preserved, are endangered.
I commend Avery for his emphasis on the absolute necessity of intensifying food production globally. In fact, I would have made the case even more strongly: To feed the ballooning population of the world at a minimum caloric level, let alone bring the roughly 800 million people now suffering malnutrition up to a minimum standard, the farmers of the world will have to more than double food production in just a few decades. Moreover, they will have to do this using less good land (too much farmland is becoming less productive because of salinization, waterlogging, and other widespread practices destructive of the soil) and with less water (because of rapidly rising demand from cities and industries for finite water supplies).
I agree with Avery that much of the answer to these challenges will have to come from scientists and agricultural research. But I would emphasize more than he has that scientists must find better ways to work with farmers to develop plants and production systems that will be profitable. He is, of course, very right in pointing to the need for much greater investment in agricultural research. This is especially true for agricultural research aimed at the developing countries still faced with population explosions. I also agree that national self-sufficiency cannot be the answer to the problem of global food security. Most of the huge volume of additional food will have to come from production on the world’s best lands, especially precious irrigated lands, too many of which are endangered by overuse and misuse of water. He’s also right in pointing out that most countries will have to import increasing amounts of food. To pay for it, food-importing countries will have to earn foreign exchange from much greater exports, including exports of food. That is the strongest case for the freer trade in agricultural products that Avery urges.
Where I find Avery’s message incomplete is in his failure to recognize how difficult it will be for poor people living on the less-well-endowed lands in developing countries (a billion or so and stillincreasing) to feed themselves. Subsidizing their production is not the answer. Nor is neglect that will require them to move to already overcrowded cities-or, if they are on or near the tropical forest frontier, to move into and cut down the forests and thereby contribute to the destruction of natural diversity. Poor farmers who cannot afford to buy enough to feed their families and who want to stay on the farm will have to grow most of their own food. Unfortunately, an enormous number of them occupy marginal land that is often in hilly or arid country and is not profitable for the kinds of agricultural production or land consolidation that Avery foresees. For most of them, outside inputs such as fertilizers are too expensive or-in remote areas-not available. Helping as many as possible of these millions of farmers intensify production enough to feed their families and produce some surplus, without destroying the very resources on which their future production must depend, is an enormous human and scientific challenge. Much of the work of the remarkable International Agricultural Research Centers is devoted to just this point.
One problem Avery does not mention is the increasing evidence that a number of synthetic inorganic chemicals, both industrial and agricultural, may turn out to pose an unacceptable threat to the very ability of species to reproduce. The strongest evidence on this point currently comes from animal research, and we must all follow this research closely. In the meantime, it is even more reason to not overuse or inappropriately use agricultural chemicals, a point on which I know Avery heartily agrees.
Dennis T. Avery is clearly correct in his insistence that if farmers are to meet the demands for food arising from population and income growth, most of the increases in production will have to come from increases in crop yield per hectare and from increases in the efficiency of animal feed. This means more intensive production in the more robust soil areas if we are to avoid pushing crop production further on to the more fragile areas. With sufficient yield increases in the robust areas, it may even be possible to reduce crop production on some of the more fragile areas.
Avery is also correct in stating that there is underinvestment in agricultural research in both developed and developing countries. In spite of the promise of biotechnology, it is not as easy to identify the sources of yield increases during the next half century as it was in the 1960s, when the investments in agricultural research, water resource development, and fertilizer production capacity that led to the green revolution were being made.
During the next half century, the world’s farmers will be confronted with a number of surprises. Some will be associated with global climate change, and complacency about the progress of the demographic transition should not make us forget the inaccuracy of past forecasts of population growth. Countries that fail to develop or maintain strong agricultural research capacity will be unable to protect their farmers and consumers from the surprises that will emerge in the future.
Dennis T. Avery proffers the important suggestion that if governments increase support for high-yielding crops and advanced farming methods, including the use of fertilizers and pesticides to produce high-yielding crops on existing farmland, it would reduce the conversion of natural areas into farmland as well as produce more food. This factor, while obvious, is often unrecognized by environmentalists and agriculturalists alike.
Avery uses a very broad brush in making his arguments and could have gone into greater depth on specifics of how this might occur from both a biological and political standpoint. He emphasizes underinvestment in agricultural research as a negative factor in saving wild lands through better farming. Conversely, he sees as a positive factor, though underfunded, the impact of the International Rice Research Institute, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development. He fails to mention, however, the U.S. land grant colleges of agriculture within land grant universities, which have demonstrated capabilities in research, teaching, and outreach and have been enormously effective in improving U.S. agriculture. They need wider duplication throughout the world. I agree that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s role and programs are also critical models for tackling the problems Avery so ably enunciates.
The land grant colleges of agriculture should consider reorienting their focus toward improving natural resource management and environmental quality. The colleges of agriculture should provide courses in general education in the various universities so that a broader student body is informed about the problems mentioned by Avery and about athe specifics of management of nonagricultural lands.
Dennis T. Avery’s description of higher crop yields sparing land for Nature invites two questions. Has the explosion of crop yields since World War II driven yields against a biological limit? And if higher crop yields spared land from the plow, can faster-growing trees spare forests from the ax?
From the Civil War until World War II, U.S. farmers grew 1.5 to 2 tons per hectare (tons/ha)of corn but now average 8. Although we might compare these 8 tons with laboratory and physiological models, record real-world yields have the advantage of testing plant allocation to grain versus root, stem, and foliage, as well as photosynthetic capacity.
Iowa provides a likely candidate for a yield near the limit. In 1996, the Crop Improvement Association conducted the Iowa Master Corn Growers Contest among 3,225 competitors. Contests are sponsored locally under rules set by the association, which also oversees the checking of yields. In 1996, the winner broke the state record with 19.5 tons/ha. This number was no fluke. The winner, who won six times from 1967 to 1996, fertilized abundantly, inspected the growing crop 24 times, and controlled pests. Except for a late spring, the weather was ideal, and the crop grew without irrigation. The winner grew some three times as many plants on each hectare as his grandfather would have grown. Iowa does not monopolize high yields. The winner among the 3,679 entrants in the 1996 contest conducted by the National Corn Growers Association grew 20.3 tons/ha in Tonopah, Arizona, and an entrant in Sterling, Nebraska, tied Iowa’s record of 19.5.
Clearly, the present U.S. average corn yield of 8 tons/ha and the world average of 4 leave much room for increase through experiments and better management of seeds, spacing, water, fertilizer, and pests. The Iowa winner’s 24 inspections foreshadow precision farming that combines global positioning technology, soil classification and tests, and meticulous yield records to tailor varieties and chemicals to each square meter of a field. The yield of 20 tons/ha also holds out hope that imparting some of corn’s photosynthetic capacity to other species could, for example, lift the world averages of 2.5 tons/ha for wheat and rice.
On U.S. timberland, annual growth currently averages about 1.5 tons/ha. Rates 10 to 20 times faster have been reported for trees as diverse as alder, poplar, eucalyptus, hemlock, and loblolly pine. Strategies as simple as ridges to improve drainage in wet soils speed growth.
High yields are the best friend of habitat. Without ignoring the risks of intensive cultivation, we can lift average yields toward the present limit of 20 tons/ha and lift the limit even more. Allowing for much more urban sprawl, we estimate that through higher yields, U.S. farmers and foresters can meet the demands of more and richer people and still spare for Nature some 90 million hectares of U.S. land that is currently cropped or logged. This area equals 100 Yellowstones or the area of Bolivia or Nigeria.
Dennis T. Avery carefully employs data, generally from scientific sources, and analytical insights to contribute to an important debate on the role of agriculture and agricultural policy in global society. Whether one agrees with Avery’s philosophy and conclusions or not, his use of readily examinable evidence in support of those positions should be commended. This characteristic alone separates Avery’s work from the majority of public discourse relating to the interface of agriculture and the environment.
The outcome of public discourse and decisionmaking is often determined by the frame in which the problem is cast. In this regard, Avery’s recent writings have made a critical contribution. For years, the need for high-yield agriculture has been positioned as a response to the need to feed a rapidly growing world population. Avery adds a third dimension: natural habitat. His premises are plausible: that populations will exploit natural resources rather than starve, and that exploiting habitat is very detrimental to the natural environment; more detrimental than high-yield agriculture.
Avery’s latter conclusion is certainly worthy of debate, and to some it is probably disagreeable. And even though I agree with it in general, there are numerous issues associated with high-yield agriculture that deserve scrutiny. Society deserves to be informed about the rewards and risks of innovations, whether they are chemical, biotechnological, or organic in nature. But Avery’s framing of the question forces us to address the risk of not using modern agricultural techniques on land that is best suited for intensive agriculture.
Avery is to be commended for advancing a perspective that runs counter to the conventional wisdom in some circles and for continuing to stress the need for decisions based on data rather than intuition and emotion. His arguments force us to address one of our fundamental global challenges-the responsibility to feed a world population that is growing in number and purchasing power, while maintaining the maximum environmental benefits, not just in our own locale but worldwide.
Recent projections of future world food supply and demand show considerable disagreement about supply but amazing consensus on demand-that world food requirements will double within 30 years. Attempts to double food production worldwide by increasing the amount of land under cultivation would result in massive destruction of forests and with them wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and capacity to absorb carbon dioxide. Dennis T. Avery correctly concludes that the only way to avoid these environmental ills is to increase the productivity of lands presently under cultivation. Critical to this effort are incentives and investment in R&D.
Many improved technologies that exist have not been put into use because of inadequate incentives, especially in low-income countries that follow a cheap food policy and underinvest in rural infrastructure. And research is key to increasing the efficiency with which plants and animals convert nutrients and other inputs-including water-into growth; to increase their tolerance to drought, salinity, and cold; to reduce losses of potential productivity from insects, diseases, and competition from weeds and parasites; and to reduce postharvest losses with better storage and processing.
A short-term jump in maize and wheat prices during 1995-96 brought out the doomsayers, much as occurred after the “world food crisis” of 1973-1974. At that time, pessimists broadcast that the Malthusian dilemma was upon us, and grain prices would rise as far as the eye could see into the 21st century. Like Malthus two centuries before them, however, they were wrong, because they assumed technology would remain static. Because of productivity increases brought by technological change, millions of hectares of forests and wildlife habitat have been saved, and the real price of grains (after adjusting for inflation) has trended downward for over 150 years, to the great benefit of consumers.
There is no reason for the doomsayers to be any more correct now. We are in the golden age of biological sciences, electronic sensors, and information processing. These tools of science give us huge opportunities to increase the productivity and efficiency of the food system. But R&D is not free. Investments by the public and private sectors are essential in order to progress from basic scientific principles to practical technologies that can be applied on the farm or in food processing.
Despite this potential, public investment in agricultural R&D has been declining for over 20 years in the United States, the European Union, and the international agricultural research system. Although the pace of private sector investment has significantly increased, it has not offset reductions in public spending.
Unfortunately, environmental activists have labeled agricultural science as part of the problem, not part of the solution. By effectively manipulating the media, they have created hysteria over chemicals, pesticides, hormones, and other inputs of modern agricultural production that is well beyond anything justified by objective evidence.
Some nongovernmental environmental organizations operating in developing countries are promoting agricultural production systems based on a strong environmental ethic, often without scientific foundation. There is a real danger that these efforts will delay agricultural development in some poor countries. In the meantime, massive environmental devastation is likely to occur as forests are sacrificed to expand the land area under cultivation to feed the world’s population.
To create a continuing stream of productivity-enhancing and cost-reducing technologies to meet society’s demands for food safety and environmental quality, we must have more public and private sector investment in R&D, training and education programs for scientists, and well-equipped research institutions.
Whither federal electricity?
Kudos to Richard Munson for his fine piece on America’s “Federal Power Dinosaurs” (Issues, Fall 1997). Munson is right on the money in pointing out that the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Rural Electrification Administration, and the Power Marketing Administration have far outlived their usefulness and need to be privatized.
These public power entities have wasted taxpayer dollars far too long in their less-than-impressive attempts to satisfy parochial interests. Millions of Americans receive absolutely no benefits from these programs, yet continue to fund their operation. This does not mean, however, that Americans who are served or subsidized by these programs are necessarily receiving a great deal. For example, although the Tennessee Valley Authority offers its customers fairly low-priced subsidized power, Tennessee consumers could actually find even cheaper power just over the border in Kentucky, where private utilities receive no federal subsidies whatsoever!
Furthermore, as Munson aptly points out, dozens of other countries across the globe have privatized or are considering privatizing their public power sector. It’s about time America gets on the band wagon before it’s too late.
Finally, there is no denying Munson’s conclusion that, “Federal utilities cannot continue to be sacred cows. The status quo is simply too expensive for both taxpayers and ratepayers.” Equally important, however, is the fact that their continued existence spells trouble for the advent of true free market competition in the electricity sector. If public power retains its subsidized advantages as the checkered flag falls to start a new era of cutthroat competition, the proverbial playing field will be most uneven and U.S. consumers and taxpayers will suffer. Congress should take Munson’s sagacious advice, therefore, and deal with public power before public power destroys the competitive electricity market they hope to bring about.
Richard Munson’s “Federal Power Dinosaurs” (Issues, Fall 1997) is a political polemic that bears little resemblance to a scientific or scholarly inquiry and thus seems rather out of place in a science and technology journal.
Munson has elsewhere attacked public power (see Public Utilities Fortnightly 135 (July 1, 1997), no. 13: 24) and I have responded (see Public Utilities Fortnightly 135 (Sept. 1, 1997),no. 16: 40). I won’t attempt to repeat here what was said there.
In his Issues article, Munson alleges that “federal power subsidies . . . distort the market, discourage efficiency, waste taxpayer dollars, and pit regions against each other.” The subsidy issue boils down to the appropriate interest rate on the federal investment in multipurpose hydroelectric projects constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and involves a policy call regarding the use fixed or variable interest rates. Munson would impose a variable rate, adjusted at least yearly. Federal policy provides for a fixed rate that is generally set at the date of construction or operation of the facilities in question.
Munson offers no evidence of market distortion. Given the fact that this Power Marketing Administration (PMA) power is marketed in more than 30 states through about 1,200 electric utilities, it is hard to image how it might distort the market. In fact, a persuasive case can be made that federal power, both Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) power and that marketed by the PMAs, imposes a market discipline by establishing a cost-based price benchmark against which market-based pricing in the future can be compared.
Nor is there any evidence that the sale of federal power discourages conservation. This is a valuable low-cost resource that is available in limited quantities. (Its low cost is not due to subsidies but to the fact that it is renewable and that the projects were constructed decades ago when costs of labor, material, and capital were lower than today.) Because the amount of power is finite, recipients have an incentive to conserve, not squander it. This is particularly true in a more competitive environment.
And there is no waste of taxpayer dollars. TVA’s power program is self-financing. The PMA customers are repaying the federal investment, plus interest. If Munson wants to root out wasted federal dollars, he can find many examples in his own region. The waste of billions of dollars on the “Big Dig” interstate highway/tunnel project in downtown Boston and the forgiveness of any repayment obligation for federal investments in the St. Lawrence Seaway are two that spring to mind.
Finally, it seems that it is Munson who is primarily responsible for trying to pit regions against each other, specifically the Northeast and Midwest against the South, West, and Pacific Northwest. Although the Northeast and Midwest have not benefited from federal investment in hydropower projects, they have benefited from billions of federal dollars invested in regional infrastructure for such things as navigation, harbor construction, and water purification projects. Unlike the sale of federal power, the beneficiaries of these investments are generally not repaying the Treasury for its investment, let alone the interest.
Munson’s crusade to tear down programs that have worked well and have provided national as well as regional benefits for all consumers is indeed curious. It is difficult to understand why this is an issue of such critical significance to Munson’s Northeast-Midwest Institute. Perhaps the institute would be better served by focusing on positive progressive projects that enhance the quality of life or further promote needed infrastructure investments in its region of the country.
I am disappointed that Richard Munson breaks no new ground in the debate over the future of the electric utility industry. The anticonsumer policies advocated by Munson and the Northeast-Midwest Coalition would serve only to help utility companies build bigger empires. As executive director of the Northeast-Midwest Coalition, Munson could make a more productive contribution to the debate by working to reduce power rates in the states he represents, instead of attacking states with lower power rates.
Most of Munson’s article advocates old ideas that have been rejected by Congress and are no longer relevant. I had hoped that he would take a more open and honest look at the electric utility industry and in particular the side of the industry he represents. His attacks on federal hydropower programs fail to mention that private power companies operate a vast network of hydroelectric facilities on the public waterways. These companies own one-third of all the hydroelectric capacity in the country, and their power costs are lower than those of the federal hydropower systems because they pay nothing for maintenance of the waterways they use and nothing for the water they use to run these plants. If these facilities were coal-fired generators, this would amount to making the taxpayers pay the cost of the coal used to generate the electricity they buy.
Instead of criticizing federal programs that work for the average consumer, the debate over how the electric utility industry should change must include a careful examination of who will benefit. We must also determine what guarantees should be put in place to protect small consumers from the transfer of lower-cost power to industrial and commercial customers that are more lucrative for power companies. The federal power programs are an important check on that system that protects consumers. So far, no reasonable alternative has been offered.
In his criticism of consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives, Munson fails to acknowledge that investor-owned utilities receive a subsidy that is nearly twice the subsidy that electric cooperatives receive on a per-consumer basis. The investor-owned utilities that Munson represents get their subsidies in the form of retained taxes that they collect from their customers but do not pay to the federal government. During that time, the money is essentially an interest-free loan from the taxpayers to these huge corporations. The annual cost of that subsidy is more than $5 billion, and to date these companies have run up a tab of more than $74 billion. That is money they owe the taxpayers.
Munson also fails to acknowledge that with the 1993 reforms creating the Rural Utilities Service, the electric cooperative loan program has cut its costs dramatically. Funding is down nearly 80 percent since 1993. Electric coops helped develop those reforms. Today, only 25 percent of all the financing obtained by electric cooperatives comes from the government.
Electric cooperatives and other consumer groups are committed to being actively involved in the effort to change our industry and intend to fight for all our consumers, no matter how big or small.
Richard Munson’s thoughtful and well-documented article raises issues that should be of concern to all Americans. Each era brings new national problems, and each Congress will hopefully find solutions appropriate to the circumstances of the time. But if each new solution creates a new entitlement and a concomitant bureaucracy in perpetuity, America is doomed to the most peculiar of futures: Although we have solved the problem, we will pay for the solution’s infrastructure forever.
My family and I benefited enormously in 1946 when “the lights came over the hill” on electric wire strung to our cabin. No more drudgery of washing out kerosene chimneys in water hauled by hand and heated on the kerosene stove or of similar chores that could now be done by modern electrical appliances. We were grateful!
But for 30 years there hasn’t been a place in the country that couldn’t get inexpensive electricity. The poles are there, and the wires, and federal power has long since been supplemented by coop-owned power plants and interstate transmission lines. Any generator could use that grid to deliver power; the federal government role is no longer needed. Besides, there are no longer large numbers of dirt-poor farmers in the countryside. There are a just a few farmers left, but there are also thousands of luxury seasonal and year-round homes in the country and suburbs. They are now the primary beneficiaries of the government subsidies Munson describes.
Perhaps your readers, who presumably prefer logic over emotion, can be instrumental in reminding Congress that a religious remembrance of the rural past does not justify taxing Americans today to support a government program to bring electricity to families who’ve had it for generations.
Nourishing a growing world
Ross M. Welch, Gerald F. Combs Jr., and John M. Duxbury deserve compliments for the clarity with which they have analyzed the nutritional problems relating to protein-calorie mal- and undernutrition and deficiencies of micronutrients such as iron and iodine (“Toward a `Greener’ Revolution,” Issues, Fall 1997). However, I am not in full agreement with all the remedies they advocate. Diversification of diets and cropping systems to include pulses, vegetables, and fruits is a feasiblesolution, but improvement of the micronutrient content of grains through breeding is an uncertain route. It has been a general experience that when the nutrient composition of grains and plant parts is altered, new problems of pests and diseases may arise. A surer and better way is the widening of the food basket by including crops described aptly in the publications of the U.S. National Research Council as “lost,” many of which are rich in iron, calcium, micronutrients, and vitamins. Unfortunately, such nutritious grains are called “coarse grains” by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and other official agencies. Such an inappropriate and unfortunate epithet should be immediately changed. Millets and similar grains rich in micronutrients should be classified in the market as “nutritious grains.” This will help both to prevent them from getting “lost” and to provide needed micronutrients in the diet.
The demand for processed and semiprocessed food is growing quickly in developing and industrialized countries. Food technologists should incorporate nutritious grains in such processed foods to provide needed micronutrients. Such a step will help on the one hand to overcome hidden hunger caused by micronutrient deficiencies and on the other to foster through market demand the on-farm conservation of the fast-vanishing minor millets and legumes by tribal and rural families.
“Green revolution” is a term that symbolizes increased production through the productivity pathway. This is the only pathway available to land-hungry but population-rich countries that can keep food production above the rate of population growth.It would be useful to adopt the term “ever-green revolution” to indicate the need for environmentally sustainable advances in productivity, rather than to use terms such as “greener revolution,” “double green revolution,” and so on.
The article by Ross M. Welch, Gerald F. Combs Jr., and John M. Duxbury makes an important contribution to the agricultural development debate by stressing the importance of nutritional goals in setting priorities for agricultural research. Enhanced food production is a means to an end-improved human welfare, including good nutrition-not an end in itself. The article is also effective in pointing out the seriousness of the micronutrient deficiencies in the human diet and opportunities for alleviating them through agricultural research.
Given the importance of these messages, it is sad that the article is cluttered by statements and conclusions that demonstrate a lack of understanding of the basic relationships between agricultural development and human nutrition. Agricultural development that results in higher incomes for malnourished people and lower costs of producing the food they produce or consume is almost certain to improve nutrition. For example, the Green Revolution facilitated a 30 percent reduction in the cost of producing rice and wheat. The associated savings were shared between producers and consumers. Poor households, which typically spend more than half their incomes on food, experienced a relatively large improvement in their real incomes. A significant share of these new incomes was spent on other food, including foods with larger amounts of micronutrients such as iron and vitamin A. It is simply incorrect to argue that such a strategy “does nothing to improve micronutrient nutrition.” The Green Revolution did more for human nutrition in developing countries (if one includes energy and protein deficiencies along with micronutrient deficiencies as part of malnutrition) than any other single development project.
Contrary to the claims made by the authors, the positive impact of the Green Revolution on micronutrient nutrition has also been very large, in spite of the limited research done on pulses. One must examine the changes in the total diet brought about by the increase in incomes and changes in relative prices, not just the nutrient content of the commodities being researched. Failure to do so results in erroneous conclusions such as “Although it [the Green Revolution] helped increase the production of staple foods, it did so at the expense of overall nutritional adequacy” and “The great paradox of the Green Revolution is that even though fewer people are starved of calories, billions of people remain starved of micronutrients.” The first of these conclusions is simply wrong. Without the Green Revolution, the predictions of the late 1950s and early 1960s that widespread hunger would kill many millions of Asians and leave many more in severe malnutrition might have materialized. True, the strategy used did not solve all nutrition problems, but, contrary to the authors’ claim, it was nevertheless an overwhelming success.
The challenges before us are to help the African countries achieve the same success and alleviate remaining micronutrient deficiencies. Effective collaboration among agricultural researchers, nutritionists, social scientists, and policymakers is essential. So is a solid understanding of the relationships between agriculture and nutrition. Let’s proceed on the merits of the case, not tear down past successes.
Ross M. Welch, Gerald F. Combs Jr., and John M. Duxbury have identified a set of very important issues that arise when one attempts to make simple decisions in a complex system. In solving one problem-caloric malnutrition-we have created a global tragedy of micronutrient malnutrition that will be with us for decades at best. Their article should be on the reading list of anyone considering a career in food or agriculture. The activities of their group and similarones, such as the Canadian Alliance for Food Systems and Health ), are an excellent starting place.
What the authors have not explored in any depth, however, is the range of other effects-in terms of the social and economic well-being of rural communities and the ecological integrity of ecosystems-that will enable sustainable development to occur.And although they have identified many components of a way through these difficulties, they seem to end up with a new shopping list of research and pedagogical activities rather than a coherent, convincing, alternative strategy.
Agricultural activities may be seen to occur in a holarchic context that cannot be fully understood from one perspective. For instance, in recent years, several thousand U.S. and Canadian citizens have suffered from the parasite cyclospora in fresh raspberries from Guatemala; this is a result of U.S. government policies to “aid” poor peasants in the 1980s, coupled with an obsession with personal health in the U.S. (translated into increased consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables), demands for cheap food, and trade liberalization in the hemisphere. Similar stories could be told with regard to major environmental devastation associated with crash programs to increase swine production, the global epidemic of obesity associated with improved economic conditions, or the occurrence of “Mad Cow” disease in the United Kingdom.
In response to these kinds of situations, many of us are involved in R&D projects that integrate a range of perspectives (environmental issues, socioeconomic issues, health and disease), and a range of scales (farm, village, ecological region, country) in methods that combine local participation with the best science we can muster. Researchers at the International Center for Tropical Research, for instance, are not only breeding new varieties of plants but, with the University of Guelph (funded through the Canadian International Development Agency), are developing holistic socioecological approaches to research and management related to sustainable development. We are doing similar work in Kenya, funded by the International Development Research Centre.
The kinds of solutions we are working toward cut across disciplinary boundaries and government departments and often require new methodological tools and theoretical developments that draw on everything from complexity and chaos theories to what has been called “post-normal” (participatory, interactive, and democratic) science. The complex socioecological and public health problems we are facing at the end of the 20th century represent a whole new ball game, where paradox is central and solutions will be complex, tentative, and context-specific.
“Toward a `Greener’ Revolution” offers a plan to improve micronutrient consumption around the world. This would not only decrease diseases caused by nutritional deficiency in much of the world but would reduce the incidence in developed countries of chronic disease in which diet plays a role. These include coronary heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and neural tube defects.
As the authors discuss, the Green Revolution focused on producing high-yielding cereal crops to increase calories and protein in the food supply. Americans now consume an excess of calories and protein. I agree that it is time to make it a national priority to release seed varieties for commercial use that are not only high-yielding but also high in micronutrients. Increased consumption of legumes in particular would greatly increase micronutrient consumption. Americans eat too much corn in the form of fat-fried chips; too much wheat in the form of refined flour in cookies and cakes; and too few whole-grain products, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. However, it would require a huge effort to convince food service operations to serve whole-grain breads, three or four vegetables with every meal, and legume dishes nearly as often as cereal-based dishes; and to convince the customer to eat these improved diets.
Selection of micronutrient-rich crop varieties and production of designer crops with increased levels of health protectants might be a more realistic way to improve health than changing consumers’ habits. As we gain an understanding of the role of various constituents in plants, such as trace nutrients, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fibers, in reducing the risk of disease and promoting health, we can begin the task of applying modern techniques in genetic engineering to produce designer crops for a healthier world.
As Ross M. Welch, Gerald F. Combs Jr., and John M. Duxbury point out, efforts to solve the global problem of insufficient calories in the diet have led to a weakening of the foundation of balanced diet that is needed for human vitality and well-being. It is unfortunate that meeting people’s macronutrient needs has compromised the satisfaction of their micronutrient requirements.
It should be self-evident that the task of agriculture is not just to produce more food but to provide the nutrients, both macro and micro, that produce healthy people. We have been content to have farmers and agricultural scientists “do their thing” and then to have any resulting deficiencies dealt with by nutritionists, but this is hardly an optimal solution. The “food systems” approach, which considers all links in the food chain from genetics to digestion, is more promising. However, this does not mean that realizing the potential of such interdisciplinary analysis and action will be easy.
I would be somewhat more circumspect in faulting the Green Revolution than Welch et al. are. The expansion of area devoted to the production of rice, wheat, and maize may have displaced production of fruits, vegetables, and legumes in some places. But if there had not been substantial increases in per-hectare yields of these staples, and if we had had to achieve the necessary levels of staple production with less-productive technologies, we might well have seen reductions in the area used for fruits, vegetables, and legumes in order to meet the demand for staples. Staples invariably take precedence over higher-quality foodstuffs because the need for calories is the most basic nutritional requirement. Rather than pit staples against foods richer in vitamins and minerals, I suggest that we focus on optimizing the production and consumption of nutritionally beneficial foods (which is what a food systems approach is supposed to do).
Much of the presentation by Welch and his associates focuses on supplying the most beneficial combinations of foods. But food supply is probably influenced more by patterns of demand than by scientific advances or even policy measures. When it comes to people’s choices about what they eat, nutritional considerations are pretty weak. Demand for food is shaped more by considerations of cost, taste, convenience, and status than by nutritional value.
However, as more and more research calls people’s attention to the link between what they eat and how healthy they are (or to what dire diseases they are more likely to contract if their dietary patterns are not the safest), nutrition and health considerations are rising in this hierarchy. In particular the middle and upper classes, who can afford to pay more for healthy foods, are becoming more nutrition-conscious. Yet the number of people who really take nutritional value seriously in their food purchasing and consumption decisions is still relatively small. Getting the agricultural industry to focus on such value in decisions about what to research, grow, procure, produce, and distribute will in the short to medium run depend more on patterns of demand than on what is socially desirable. So long as we function within market economies, profit will be a more powerful influence than virtue.
This means that much more effort should be devoted to communicating the health benefits of good nutrition, focusing more on its effects on mortality than vitality. This is part of a food systems approach, addressing demand at the same time as supply and requiring the participation of many disciplines.
The food systems approach is still fairly amorphous, being justified at present mostly by its evident merits as compared with approaches that are divided and partial. The next step is to use it to give some concrete demonstrations of how a more holistic diagnosis of the sources of nutritional deficits can produce more cost-effective and sustainable strategies that improve the health of significant numbers of people, particularly the disadvantaged and at-risk, such as pregnant mothers, children, people living in remote areas, and the poor.
We do not yet have much evidence about how such a comprehensive strategy would work. My own view is that a food systems approach can be made operational and useful, but it will require more creative and systematic thinking and more active experimentation than have been invested in any strategies for nutritional improvement thus far. The payoff would be that once established, this approach should be less costly and more self-sustaining.
Viewing Earth from space
For 25 years, I have sought public policies to ensure that the information pouring down from civilian and military remote-sensing satellites is put to greater use in understanding and solving some of the most important problems here on Earth. Therefore, it was gratifying to read “A Jeffersonian Vision for Mapping the World,” by William B. Wood (Issues, Fall 1997).
Remote-sensing policy was once of concern only to the U.S. government, but since the 1972 launch of LANDSAT 1 we have seen the arrival of new and more capable satellites from Europe, Russia, and India. The next great leap in capability will come as new commercial satellites join the constellation. The Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics of the House Science Committee held two hearings on the growing commercial presence in orbit, on May 21 and June 4, 1997. These hearings led to the introduction of H.R. 1702, the Commercial Space Act of 1997, by Representatives Sensenbrenner, Rohrabacher, Cramer, Jackson Lee, and myself. One of the chief purposes of the bill is to continue the commercialization of remote sensing in the United States.
Of greater import for Wood’s proposal is the bill’s direction to the secretary of state to allow “[a]ppropriate United States Government agencies . . . to provide to developing nations, as a component of international aid, resources for purchasing remote sensing data, training, and analysis from commercial providers.” I would hope that by so doing, other nations would see at first hand the value of Wood’s proposed Global Spatial Data Infrastructure (GSDI) for managing the resources within their borders.
Wood makes the important point that the data sets underpinning the GSDI will require georeferencing if they are to be accurately integrated in geographic information systems. Unlike Lewis and Clark, modern cartographers have the Global Positioning System (GPS), one of our most successful dual-use technologies. As the committee notes in H.R. 1702, GPS “has become an essential element in civil, scientific, and military space development,” and the committee calls on the president to “ensure the operation of the Global Positioning System on a continuous worldwide basis free of direct user fees; and enter into international agreements that promote cooperation with foreign governments and international organizations . . . and eliminate any foreign barriers to applications of the Global Positioning System world-wide.” If Wood’s GSDI is to become a reality, this will be a critical prerequisite.
Despite the real and practical benefits offered by Wood’s proposal, I foresee its implementation as anything but a simple process. We have already seen that some nations remain sensitive to free access to remote-sensing information. There is, of course, the further problem of obtaining resources for the long-term maintenance of the data sets, something we here in the United States have yet to adequately ensure. As the benefits of integrating earth science information become clear through the efforts described in Wood’s article, we should be able to overcome these problems in time.
A new environmentalism
Marian R. Chertow and Daniel C. Esty’s “Environmental Policy: The Next Generation” (Issues, Fall 1997) summarizes a number of prescriptions for dealing with the challenges confronting the next generation of environmental policy, challenges also raised in their outstanding book Thinking Ecologically: The Next Generation of Environmental Policy (Yale University Press, 1997). They call for an integrated system of environmental protection, not one fragmented into air, water, and waste segmenta; better risk analysis and management; a less confrontational regulatory style; more inclusive environmental policy that engages local governments, the private sector, and the service industry in ways not hitherto attempted; and more innovation in environmental policy.
Critics might argue that Chertow and Esty are attempting to repair an essentially outmoded and undesirable system of pollution control, and that what is required is not mere tinkering with a fundamentally flawed system but a reassessment of our priorities, leading to the building of a new set of environmental policies and laws.
We appreciate the thrust of such criticism, but a wholesale demolition of the current formidable structure of law, policy, bureaucracy, dependent professionals, interest groups, lobbyists, and lawyers is not politically feasible. Instead, a set of perspectives that supplement and augment Chertow and Esty’s suggestions might move environmental policy in a more practicable direction.
First, consider human demands. Any new generation of environmental policy and law must comprehend and systemically reflect the fact that, to a very great extent, it is consumer or public demand for goods and services, not industrial perfidy, that causes environmental degradation. Significant environmental improvements can result from reshaping consumer preferences and consumption. For example, a reduced demand for pure white as opposed to off-white paper can significantly reduce water pollution by curtailing the environmentally damaging bleaching process. However, changing behavioral patterns in a democracy requires the acceptance of clearly understood policies that are supported by a majority of the public. Those policies should lead to autonomous choice and individual action, avoiding the “command and control” of current environmental laws. When it comes to individual behavior and personal preferences, Americans can be led but they cannot be driven.
Second, industry should be treated as a partner, not an adversary, in environmental protection. In responding to human wants, industry generates the flow of materials and energy in cycles beginning with the extraction of raw materials from the environment. After those materials are transformed, the wastes created are returned to the environment. Industry must be co-opted into the crucial task of reducing environmental burdens by improving this cycle. Chertow and Esty suggest that we should establish, in agriculture, a pollution tax so that farmers pay for their pollution but are also rewarded for constructive environmental actions. Such incentives should be available to all U.S. businesses.
The third point relates to technology. “Ecology,” according to its Greek roots, is the study of houses and thus entails a study of the house of humans: the physical and social environment created by technology that coexists with nature. Technology is surpassed only by religion as the most powerful social force in the saga of human society. Our technological society has been built on our understanding of fire, metals, fossil fuels, atoms, and the human genome and must now include understanding of pollution and resource exhaustion.
Technological innovation is a primary tool for achieving environmental improvements, and must be recognized as such by law and policy. To unleash the creative forces of technology, engineers should be allowed to engineer. Industry should be released from the shackles of obsolete technology controls and permitted to creatively meet environmental quality standards. As a corollary, environmental protection agencies should be obligated by legislative mandate to promote technological entrepreneurship and research.
An expanded “bubble” concept illustrates how to achieve a broad policy change in the regulation of emissions. Everything that occurs within the bubble is the responsibility of the enterprise. Everything that leaves the bubble becomes the concern of the people of the United States. As with agriculture, a penalty/bonus system could apply to emissions that exceed, meet, or fall below established benchmarks. Ideally, a tax would be related to the potential health effects of particular pollutants.
Our environment is an irreplaceable resource we should all work to preserve and protect. There can be no substitute for clean air and water, pure food, and wise land use practices. Surely, all Americans can and should affirm this basic commitment.
Yet our environment is placed at risk when persons of good will exercise poor judgment. The upcoming treaty on global climate change is a case in point. Not only are the scientific data on which the treaty (which the United States plans to sign in Kyoto, Japan, in December) is based inconclusive, but the plan to address emissions would not work. By omitting 134 of the world’s 166 nations from the treaty, the United States is giving a tacit invitation to the developing world to pollute with even greater energy.
The developing nations, such as China, India, Brazil, and Mexico, will, over the next 20 years, begin producing the bulk of the world’s greenhouse gases. And over the next half century, developing nations are expected to contribute 76 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions and up to 85 percent of the projected worldwide increase in carbon dioxide emissions.
By strapping U.S. companies with restrictive new emissions standards, the Kyoto treaty will provide a compelling incentive for U.S. firms to consider relocating abroad, stripping jobs out of the United States and concentrating pollution even more intensely in developing countries.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed clean air standards are another example of unclear thinking about environmental programs. The standards would ratchet down permissible emissions of fine particulate matter and ozone-depleting gases, ostensibly to protect human health. Yet, like the data on global climate change, the science on which the standards are based is highly questionable. And the impact on the economy would be disastrous. An estimated 800 counties-one-fourth of the national total-would fall into immediate noncompliance with the new regulations, and many would have long-term difficulty in meeting the new standards.
The jobs that could be lost as a result of the Kyoto treaty and the new clean air standards number, by some estimates, over one million. A review of the hard science behind each proposal shows that the bases for the treaty and the standards are severely wanting. Energy taxes could skyrocket as much as 50 cents per gallon of gas. Human health could see little or no improvement. And the status of the environment might even worsen.
The irony is that substantial progress in improving the environment continues to be made in the United States. Although we are now driving more than twice as many miles than we did in 1970 and our gross domestic product has doubled during that time, we’ve cut down on emissions of the six major pollutants and their precursors by 29 percent. Manufacturing continues to develop anti-pollution technologies that offer great promise. And the traditional smokestack industries are fundamentally changing as high-tech procedures replace belching furnaces and soot-drenched skies.
Neglect and excess are the two extremes we must avoid. If we are serious about both necessary economic growth and sustainable environmental quality, we need to work together for the common good of humankind and the material environment in which we live. Industry is working hard to achieve this balance and should not be encumbered with unworkable regulations that only impede, rather than enhance, environmental and economic progress.
Better relations with Japan
Much of my direct personal experience over the past eight years aligns with George R. Heaton’s observations in “Engaging an Independent Japan” (Issues, Summer 1997). Since 1989, I have worked on behalf of two research-intensive academic medical centers in the United States (the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Maryland, Baltimore) in promoting each campus’ basic and clinical research capabilities to pharmaceutical, diagnostic, and medical device companies in Japan. In 1993, these efforts led to a five-year $19.8-million collaboration in basic cardiovascular biology between U.C. San Francisco and Daiichi Pharmaceutical Company of Tokyo. Over the years, this collaboration has been highly satisfactory to both parties. I have recently begun a similar effort on behalf of the faculty of the University of Maryland, Baltimore.
I was impressed with Heaton’s observation that “The cooperative approach most likely to result in mutual benefit is small-scale and particular.” In our activities, we have seen a dramatic evolution in the attitudes and behaviors of the R&D planners at major Japanese pharmaceutical companies. In 1990, we frequently experienced tremendous difficulty in breaking through the invariably polite but highly formal manner with which we were received in Osaka and Tokyo. Our objective when we visit Japan is always quite simple and straightforward: We wish to learn from the companies the nature of their needs and priorities so that we can offer campus-based capabilities that might be of value to them. In the case of many companies, and even after many meetings in the early 1990s, we often struggled to get beyond the formalities.
Today, how different are the meetings we have at most life-sciences companies in Japan! With only one exception, during our recent visits to 8 of the 10 largest Japanese drug companies we were given quite detailed outlines of the companies’ R&D objectives and priorities. In several cases, we were encouraged to immediately present areas where the university’s strengths might intersect with a company’s particular needs. The entire attitude of the senior management of these companies, and of their North America-based subsidiaries, is very different from what we found just five or six years ago.
Naturally, we applaud the efforts of government bureaucrats in Tokyo and in Washington to promote more vigorous interaction between the scientific communities, both commercial and academic, of our two countries. However, our experience bears out the most significant of Heaton’s observations: “True technological collaboration . . . is best achieved between individual companies, universities, and people.”
Rethinking government support for science
Rarely does one find such a balanced and informative book review as Richard R. Nelson’s of Terence Kealey’s The Economic Laws of Scientific Research. Nelson concedes that Kealey’s main arguments for phasing out all government support of science are defensible. However, his last sentence reads, “Perhaps the blatant extreme of Kealey’s position will serve the useful purpose of focusing the arguments of those who believe in public science . . .” But is that position so extreme? I think not.
I believe that Nelson misreads Kealey in suggesting that without government support, no science would be done that is not “intentionally oriented toward technology.” [To describe this type of science, Deborah Shapley and I coined the term “atelestic” (without purpose) science in our book Lost at the Frontier.] That is not Kealey’s intention. I myself have advocated the “disestablishment,” not stopping, of all such science: don’t shut it off, but get the government out of funding it. To draw an analogy, this nation disestablished religion; it did not destroy it. Indeed, Europeans marvel at the booming religion “business” in the United States, and that boom is supported by private money. What I have been trying to get my fellow scientists to do is open their minds to a radically different source of funding of atelestic science-private wealth. In a recent letter to Science, two directors of private foundations pointed out that enormous amounts of wealth will be inherited by the Baby Boomers. I have also made the case that if the U.S. billionaires whose wealth comes from technology gave half the increase in their wealth in one year to a U.S. culture foundation, we would have an endowment sufficient to provide for atelestic science, arts, and humanities.
One can quite logically support the proposition that public science funding should exclusively be given for research that demonstrably supports the public interest, including the creation and retention of jobs. Such research can be included in what I call “horizontal deer hunting”: at least shoot horizontally in the general direction of the deer. Atelestic basic research (from particle physics to radio astronomy) can be distinguished from such goal-oriented work by the term “vertical deer hunting”: shoot bullets up into the air and maybe one will hit a deer on the way down. Kealey’s position, I believe, and mine, is that private wealth (not business or industry support) should be used for all such vertical deer hunting.
Recounting coastal population
Don Hinrichsen estimated that nearly two-thirds of the world’s people make their homes within 150 kilometers of a coastline (“Coasts in Crisis,” Issues, Summer 1996). In a 1990 book, Henrichsen estimated that almost 60 percent of the world’s people live within 100 kilometers of a sea coast. More accurate data from a global digital population map now available at <http://www.ciesin.org/ make it possible to obtain more precise estimates of coastal populations. As of 1994, approximately 37 percent of the world’s population lived within 100 kilometers of a coastline, and 44 percent within 150 kilometers. Although these estimates of coastal population size are considerably smaller than Hinrichsen’s, we agree that very large numbers of people affect and are affected by coastal zones.