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Public Papers - 1990 - April

Remarks at the Closing Session of the White House Conference on Science and Economics Research Related to Global Change

1990-04-18

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you, Dr. Bromley, very much, Dr. Boskin, Mr. Deland, and Secretaries Watkins and Lujan of our Cabinet, Dr. Bolin, and distinguished delegates to this truly unprecedented conference.

After all of the hard work that's taken place here, in what I know was an atmosphere of lively debate, I would begin with thanks and a moment of perspective; for your purpose here is profoundly important to the state of nature and the fate of mankind. Your presence has offered hope for a new era of environmental cooperation around the world and the promise of a quieter, more thoughtful, more careful tenancy of nature's legacy to humanity.

You know, during these last 2 days, we've listened and learned -- and I've been briefed thoroughly on some of the committee's works -- learned about Brazil's new initiatives to protect the Amazon rain forest, about Nigeria's plans to remove lead from gasoline, about Mexico's promising efforts to reduce the Mexico City air pollution.

A year ago I participated in an American education summit and found the most productive sessions were those working groups. This Conference was structured with that lesson in mind. So, my thanks go to all the delegates who played such an integral role in those working groups, particularly the foreign delegates who served as cochairmen.

A growing sense of global stewardship prompted us to host this Conference. It's a sense of stewardship shared by all of you and by the nations you represent. And it arises out of a natural sense of obligation, an understanding that we owe our existence, all that we know and are, to this miraculous sphere that sustains us. Somebody told me that the evening you had over at the museum brought this into very, very clear perspective when you heard from some of the NASA people.

Such stewardship finds expression in many ways, from public demonstration to landmark legislation, but it is also rewarded in many ways, in moments unexpected and unforgettable. Nature's beauty has a special power, a resonance that at once elevates the mind's eye, and yet humbles us as well. Before nature, the works of humanity seem somehow small. We may build cathedrals, temples, mosques, monuments, and mausoleums to great men and women and high ideals, and still we know we can build no monuments to compare with nature. Our greatest creations really can't equal God's smallest.

Yet as our tools and intellect advance, we've learned of our power to alter the Earth. We understand that small actions, taken together, can have profound global consequences for the environment we share and the humanity we share it with. The importance of global stewardship can be best understood in human terms.

We also recognize that ours is an increasingly prosperous planet, with greater hopes now than ever before that more of our people in every nation may come to know an enduring peace and an unprecedented quality of life.

So, we're called upon to ensure that the Earth's integrity is preserved and that mankind's prospects for prosperity, peace and, in some regions, even survival are not put at risk by the unintended consequences of noble intentions. That's the reason we've held this conference.

The minds at work here are among the very best we have, and they are the best insurance that our actions are sound. We've gathered talent from around the world -- scientists, economists, environmentalists, energy ministers, policymakers -- to address the environmental and developmental future of the planet, an unprecedented cross-fertilization of disciplines and of nations. That alone, I think, is reason for hope.

But if diversity of perspective is expected, unity of purpose is crucial. In an atmosphere of uncertainty, we must foster a climate of good will and a stubborn hope that we might forge solutions without the excessive heat of politics.

Among all the challenges in our tenancy of this planet, climate change is, of course, foremost in your minds. We're leading the search for response strategies and working through the uncertainty of both the science and the economics of climate change. But there is one area where we will allow for no uncertainty, and that is our commitment to action -- to sound analyses and sound policies.

To those who suggest we're only trying to balance economic growth and environmental protection, I say they miss the point. We are calling for an early new way of thinking to achieve both while compromising neither by applying the power of the marketplace in the service of the environment.

And we cannot allow a question like climate change to be characterized as a debate between economists versus environmentalists. To say that this issue has sides is about as productive as saying that the Earth is flat. It may simplify things, but it just doesn't do justice to the facts or to our future. The truth is, strong economies allow nations to fulfill the obligations of stewardship, and environmental stewardship is crucial to sustaining strong economies. If we lose sight of the forest for the trees, we risk losing both.

But above all, the climate change debate is not about research versus action, for we've never considered research a substitute for action. Over the last 2 days you've heard, formally and informally, that the United States is already taking action to stabilize and reduce emissions through our clean air legislation, our use of market-based incentives to control pollution, our search for alternative energy sources, our emphasis on energy efficiency, our reforestation initiatives, and our technical assistance programs to developing nations. These policies were developed to address a broad range of environmental concerns. In particular, our phaseout of CFC's, the impact of our Clean Air Act on emissions, our tree planting initiative, and other strategies will produce reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that will reach 15 percent in 10 years and considerably more later on.

We're also making a leading investment in climate change research -- absolutely essential because it will tell us what to do next. But what bears emphasis is that we are committed to domestic and international policies that are environmentally aggressive, effective, and efficient.

And we are deeply committed to an international partnership through the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] process. We look forward to its interim assessment. And we would encourage a framework convention as a part of a comprehensive approach to address the system, sources, and sinks as a whole if a decision is made that environmental action is needed to reduce net emissions. We hope to provide a venue for the first negotiating sessions here in the United States.

And finally, here in conference working groups, we've offered four new ideas: a charter for cooperation in science and economic research related to global change, possible creation of international institutes for research on the science and economics of global change, data and information transfers through a global change communications network, and a statement of principles for implementing international cooperation in scientific and economic research related to global change.

I call on you to support these suggestions. All of you here today understand climate change as one of many challenges in the call to global stewardship: ozone depletion, water supply, ocean pollution, wetlands, deforestation, biological diversity, population change, hunger, energy demand -- in short, all of the interrelated issues of the global environment. Each demands our attention. Each will have great impact.

And some we can predict, and regrettably and frankly, some can't be easily anticipated. But each has a human dimension we must never forget. Understand the choices we are making; they affect us all, but in profoundly different ways. We have many paths to choose from, and some of them are fraught with risk to precious and life-giving resources; risk to geopolitical stability; and certainly, man-made limits to prosperity, most painfully reflected in the hollow eyes of hungry children and their prospects for survival.

If developed nations ignore the growth needs of developing nations, it will imperil us all. We know that even small changes in GNP growth rate often threaten adequate shelter, food, and health care for millions and millions of people. And to bear this in mind is no barrier to action. Those who have ascended the economic hill must break down the barriers to progress and assist others now making the climb. But this will only be possible if the nations of the world are linked in partnerships of every kind: scientific, economic, technical, agricultural, environmental.

Pollution is not, as we once believed, the inevitable byproduct of progress. True global stewardship will be achieved not by seeking limits to growth, which are contrary to human nature, but by achieving environmental protection through more informed, more efficient, and cleaner growth. Those who value environmental quality the most should be the most ardent supporters of strategies that tap the power of free wills and free markets, strategies that turn human nature to environmental advantage. Equally, those who value economic development most highly should be the most ardent defenders of the environment, which provides the basis for a healthy economy. Efficient strategies are the only realistic hope for developing nations to save themselves from the mistakes that developed nations have already made.

And we have made mistakes. But over the past century, we've made tremendous progress in this country, especially in the last 20 years. In the United States, automotive emission controls have brought about a new generation of cars that emit only 4 percent as much pollution as the typical 1970 model. We've cut airborne particulates by 60 percent, carbon monoxide by about 40 percent, cut sulfur emissions, and virtually eliminated lead from the air -- all during a period of population growth and economic expansion. And now we want to share that knowledge -- our technologies, new processes, and pollution prevention techniques -- with the developing world.

Two decades ago, America, holding to its birthright of free expression, was home to a movement symbolized by Earth Day. It motivated President Nixon to sign into law a national policy to encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and the environment, and it set in motion a new sense of conscience that a few idealists hoped would change the world.

And it did. What began as an isolated American movement 20 years ago is now shared by over 130 countries on 7 continents. And while many thought this experiment in environmental protection would prove impossible, that you couldn't maintain both a productive economy and a healthy environment, we've learned that economic prosperity and environmental protection go hand in hand. And we've learned that worldwide, united action is essential and possible, as the Montreal protocol proved.

America and other nations must now extend an offered hand to emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and to developing societies around the world. In some, the raging fires of forests and grasslands burned for compelling but devastating economic reasons have been visible to astronauts in space. Other nations, in the struggle to support life, have been virtually stripped of the resources that sustain life.

And in Eastern Europe, whether through the tyranny of neglect or the neglect of tyrants, pollution has been unveiled as one of the Old World's cruelest dictators, an oppressor -- not man but manmade. In the majestic city of Krakow that I visited a couple of years ago, monuments to great men, statues that survived countless invasions by kings and emperors, by Hitler and by Stalin, have been defaced by pollution, their medieval majesty reduced to shapeless lumps of stone.

If mankind's greatest creations cannot equal God's smallest, some may grieve that our greatest destruction is turned at times upon ourselves. Let us neither grieve nor quarrel but act on what we know can help and act in good faith. Our challenge is global stewardship: to work together to find long-term strategies that will meet the needs of the entire world and all therein.

Our convictions and my sincere belief is that environmental protection and economic growth, well-managed, complement one another and that we can serve this generation while preserving the Earth for the next and all that follow. It is an uncommon opportunity we share. And so, let us seize the moment. And together, we will succeed.

Thank you for what I believe is a significant contribution to environmental progress in the world. Thank you for coming our way. Thank you very much.

Note: The President spoke at 2:32 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the J.W. Marriott Hotel. In his remarks, he referred to D. Allan Bromley, Science Advisor to the President and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; Michael J. Boskin, Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers; Michael R. Deland, Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality; Secretary of Energy James D. Watkins; Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan, Jr.; and Bert Bolin, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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