situation confronting us is not one that lends itself to easy prescriptions
or simple answers. Our current economy and civilization are built
on a foundation of fossil fuels and synthetic chemicals. According
to one chemical industry estimate, chlorinated synthetic chemicals
and the products made from them constitute 45 percent of the world's
GNP. If it has taken fifty years to work our way into this dilemma,
it will almost certainly take just as long or longer to find our
way out of it.
we look toward the future and think about charting a new course,
it is critical to begin with a clear-eyed view of our situation.
As the experience over the past half century has demonstrated, there
is no way to put large quantities of man-made chemicals into the
environment without exposing on our children and ourselves to unknown
risks. Many of these synthetic compounds may prove harmless, but
others may not. We must face the fact that there is no way to guarantee
the safety of synthetic chemicals, even those that have been on
the market for decades. CFCs had been in broad use for fifty years
before the ozone hole was discovered over Antarctica. The lag time
before effects emerge in vast, complex systems can give a false
sense of safety and increase the opportunity for catastrophe.
must be ever mindful that for all the advances in science, we still
have only the most general understanding of the life systems on
which we have been experimenting-whether our own bodies or Earth's
atmosphere. At the time that CFCs were invented, scientists did
not understand the ozone layer or its importance in shielding the
Earth from ultraviolet radiation. That came three years later through
the work of a British scientist, Sydney Chapman. DDT and other hormone-disrupting
chemicals were on the market for two decades, before researchers
began to fathom the mysteries of the hormone receptors and even
longer before they discovered that synthetic chemicals could mimic
hormones and engage those receptors.
the risks that confront us stem from this gap between our technological
prowess and our understanding of the systems that support life.
We design new technologies at a dizzying pace and deploy them on
an unprecedented scale around the world long before we can begin
to fathom their possible impact on the global system or ourselves.
We have plunged boldly ahead, never acknowledging the dangerous
ignorance at the heart of the enterprise.
arrogant presumption may be an ineradicable part of human nature.
The ancient Greeks called it hubris. Throughout human history, humans
have risked the unknown, courting both success and catastrophe.
What differs now is the stakes, the magnitude of possible mistakes.
Our activities no longer involve just one village and its neighbor,
one valley or the next. The scale of human activity means that these
experiments engage the planet.
we race toward the future, we must never forget the fundamental
reality of our situation: we are flying blind. Our dilemma is like
that of a plane hurtling through the fog without a map or instruments.
Instead of being able to provide a reliable radar system, scientists
are peering through the cockpit window trying to warn of any obstacles
ahead. And usually, the most they can say is that the dark mass
looming into view might be a cloud bank. Or then again, it might
be a mountain.
what do we do? Land the plane as quickly as possible, slow down,
or proceed full speed ahead because it would be incredibly expensive
and disruptive to cancel this trip?