Curing the earth's environmental woes will require nothing less than a whole new mindset, argues former New York Times environmental reporter Shabecoff (A Fierce Green Fire, 1992) in this free-ranging, informed book. Shabecoff was asked by the secretary-general of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development to chronicle the doings of the Secretariat in preparation for, and during, the 1992 summit in Rio: unconditional access, working independently, unanswerable to the U.N., a fly on the wall. What he saw made him think long and hard on just how much economics has to do with the state of the environment—the economic causes of environmental decline and the environmental causes of economic dysfunction—and how the structural flaws in our value systems and political institutions lead inevitably to human misery and environmental degradation. Shabecoff argues that as long as poverty, hunger, disease, and ignorance run rampant, and until links are drawn between these conditions, the economic imperatives of our fossilized capitalism, and the willful abuse of the environment, it will be understandable that many humans won't give a fig about the ecological integrity of the planet. He insists on the necessity of global population control and an equitable distribution of wealth. Since the Rio summit, and more to the point since the Stockholm conference on the environment back in 1972, Shabecoff has found little to make him happy with the world: still practicing the same economics, employing the same technologies, politics as usual, factional strife, corruption. He is thrilled by a few thriving grassroots sustainable-development operations—marrying human betterment with ecological consciousness—but will that ever make a dent in the problems of a China or an India? Shabecoff isn't sanguine about the prospects. A call for new values and laws, redirected politics and technology. Old advice, if sharply delivered, smartly framed. But the question still goes begging: How?
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