Environmental problems stem from deep-rooted flaws within the structure of developed society, said environmental advocates assembled at the Kennedy School of Government's ARCO Forum of Public Affairs last night.
"Environmental problems are symptoms of larger problems we must deal with," said panelist Jason W. Clay '73, the director of research for Cultural Survival, an environmental group which focuses on ending the destruction of the environment through human rights reforms.
People must battle the problems that lead to environmental destruction, including "greed, poverty, and ignorance," he said. "Conservation is not a biological issue, it is a people issue."
"The most underlooked issue [in the environmental reform movement] is the fact that human rights violations go hand in hand with environmental degradation," Clay said. "Third-world elites squander resources and, in the process, rob and exploit their people. The United States and Europe are traditional partners with these elites."
The purpose of the discussion, entitled "Earth Day 1990: 20 Years of Environmentalism" was to discuss the past, present, and future of environmental action. The panel, cosponsored by the Institute of Politics Student Advisory Committee and Phillips Brooks House's Environmental Action Committee, drew an audience of more than 80 people.
Clay emphasized the importance of boycotts as a means for consumers to accelerate reform. "We need to be consumers concerned with not only what the package is made of, but also what is in the package," Clay said. "We need to question ourselves, 'Does [the product] support a living environment?'''
Panelist Doug Scott, associate director of the Sierra Club, agreed with Clay. "The greatest challenge we have is to empower the people," Scott said. "We don't want environmental advocacy to result in panicked people. We need to empower them to rally to the cause more effectively."
Scott said that there was an "ingrown disillusionment" most people had of governments' ability to solve environmental problems. "We need to do something about this disillusionment," Scott said. "We need to do something about their faith in civics."
U.S. Law a Model
Panelist Zygmunt Plater, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, emphasized the importance of the American legal system in promoting world-wide environmental reform. "United States law [regarding environmental protection] is the dominating model for global environmental reform," Plater said. "For the past 20 years, American law has created a matrix for the world to follow."
The panel convened one day after Earth Day 1990, a global environmental awareness event described by Postel as the "largest demonstration for a human cause in history."