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Maurice Strong on environmental concerns

 

Maurice Strong is the author of "Where on Earth are We Going?" Strong is also the senior advisor to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Before holding this position, Strong was senior advisor to the president of the World Bank.

CNN Moderator: Welcome to CNN.com Maurice Strong.

Maurice Strong: Well I'm very pleased to be connected to an audience that has this interest.

CNN Moderator: Where do you think that we and the Earth are going?

Maurice Strong: Well, the answer to that is that we are now literally in command of our own future. Human numbers and the scale and intensity of human activity have literally reached the point at which we are impacting on the basic parameters and conditions which make life as we know it viable on this earth. This means that we have to accept the reality that we literally now are the agents of our future. And the answer to where on earth are we going depends now largely, if not entirely, on what we do or fail to do in the first two or three decades of this century to stop the processes of environmental deterioration, which now are creating ultimate risk to the human future.

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Maurice Strong is the author of "Where on Earth are We Going?" Strong is also the senior advisor to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. Before holding this position, Strong was senior advisor to the president of the World Bank.

CNN Moderator: Welcome to CNN.com Maurice Strong.

Maurice Strong: Well I'm very pleased to be connected to an audience that has this interest.

CNN Moderator: Where do you think that we and the Earth are going?

Maurice Strong: Well, the answer to that is that we are now literally in command of our own future. Human numbers and the scale and intensity of human activity have literally reached the point at which we are impacting on the basic parameters and conditions which make life as we know it viable on this earth. This means that we have to accept the reality that we literally now are the agents of our future. And the answer to where on earth are we going depends now largely, if not entirely, on what we do or fail to do in the first two or three decades of this century to stop the processes of environmental deterioration, which now are creating ultimate risk to the human future.

Question from chat room: I am curious what the Kyoto agreement being scuttled is doing to our credibility in the world?

Maurice Strong: Well, frankly, coming from the world's only superpower, and also its super polluter, there is no question that President Bush's action, and the unilateral nature of this action, have sent shockwaves throughout the world, not only amongst the committed environmentalists, but amongst people and leaders everywhere who recognize that their future is going to be significantly affected by this decision if it is his last word on the subject.

The hope is--my hope and I hope all would share--that this is just his first word and will not be his last. That he will be responsive to the advice of his own scientists and to the concerns of the American people about the impact on their future if this were to signal an abdication by the United States of its leadership on a matter that is so critical to the future of America and indeed to the entire world.

Because the world looks to the United States for leadership and example. And therefore we are all waiting anxiously and hopefully to the alternatives to Kyoto, which President Bush has promised.

Question from chat room: Maurice, liberals approach the environmental issue by claiming that conservatives are anti-environment. This antagonism prevents any serious political debate on the environment. How should the liberals change their ways?

Maurice Strong: Well, I don't think that it divides that evenly into how liberals deal with the issue and how conservatives do. I remind you that the beginning of the environmental movement, although then it was called "conservation" in the United States, was as a Republican issue under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt. Even the word "conservation" and the word "conservative" have common roots. This is a concern that is of such importance that it has to be shared by liberals and conservatives although they may differ in the manner in which they think it can be best addressed. Again, I don't think this breaks down into liberal and conservative means, although broadly speaking, liberals may believe that more government policy direction and government incentives are required.

Both share a real interest in the issue but may differ on the best means of dealing with it. Liberals may look more to governments for the policy direction and incentives that will motivate the necessary changes, while conservatives are more likely to favor the mechanisms of the market with a minimum of government direction or control. In reality we need a mix of both approaches. The question is to strike the right balance.

Question from chat room: Mr. Strong, do you think environmental credits should be treated like commodities and subjected to market dynamics?

Maurice Strong: That's a broad question There is already a market in sulphur-dioxide emission credits and the beginnings of a market in CO2 credits.

Question from chat room: What is Bush's rationale for cutting alternative source funding if we are in the middle of an "energy" crisis as he claims?

Maurice Strong: Yes, I think that is a very valid question, and I hope that President Bush will provide an acceptable answer to it. It is certainly hard to square that position with the alarm bells he is sounding with an energy crisis and what he is doing to increase the supply of fossil fuels to meet that crisis under conditions which are clearly setting up an even greater crisis.

Question from chat room: Mr. Strong, first it was Whitman being quoted incorrectly concerning Bush and his global warming stance. Yesterday Whitman called drilling in Alaska dead, and yet today the Bush administration said the drilling prospect is alive and well. What message is this sending? Why the mixed messages?

Maurice Strong: I think what he is saying is that the cabinet team around President Bush has differing views on these key issues. It is not often that these differing views surface at the public level. But they do reflect the fact that there is taking place within the Bush administration an intensive dialog on the issues and we can hope from that, that when President Bush takes his final decisions, he will have taken heed of the views and concerns of the much broader constituency of Americans who are now expressing themselves on this issue. And it is these expressions which are being reflected in the differences we are hearing from members of the Bush cabinet.

Question from chat room: Once more I am asking this from the bottom of my heart. Is this a business concern or a real concern of Americans? Who is really running the show regarding environmental concerns?

Maurice Strong: Well I'm not sure about that question. We cannot leave this solely to business. Many business leaders are now taking seriously the climate

change risk. And the other environmental effects of economic growth and are addressing the issue constructively. Then many others are still in a state of denial. But both political leaders and business leaders will ultimately be influenced by what people think and how they act. -- as consumers and as voters. This is ultimately a people issue. People must drive the politics as well as the economics of growth, for ultimately people will be the victims of irresponsible and mismanaged growth.

Question from chat room: Let us take "global warming." There is no, repeat no established science supporting it.

Maurice Strong: This person is probably very sincere in his question, but has certainly not kept up to date on the science. An intergovernmental panel on climate change consisting of top scientists from around the world has clearly documented the risks we face; the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Association, a U.S. government agency, calls it a "crisis"; The National Research Council recently provided further strong support to the evidence that we do indeed face risks to the sustainability of life on our planet. There are of course some dissenters, but they are today in the minority and even most of them agree that we do face risks and their dissent is largely on the extent of the risk and remedies for it.

Question from chat room: How can we discern between the "good versus bad" science debate?

Maurice Strong: Well, I think the fact is--go to the most authoritative voices--not just those who have one or two scientists on the payroll of interested parties. Go to the scientific organizations, the academies and institutions of science, which represent the most authoritative and representative body of scientific opinion. None will claim certainty in their analysis, but most agree that the risks we face threaten the future of our civilization and make the case for action on our part to counter these risks.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Maurice Strong.

Maurice Strong: Goodbye. And I appreciate this dialog and your concerns and interests, and am happy for the feedback.

Maurice Strong joined CNN.com Newsroom from New York City. CNN provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Monday, April 23, 2001 at 5:00 p.m. ET.



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