November 28, 2001

Journalist Touches on Environment, Sept. 11

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Journalist and author Mark Hertsgaard — who had planned solely to discuss environmental issues yesterday in Anabel Taylor Hall — instead devoted part of his lecture to the sociopolitical consequences of the events surrounding Sept. 11.

Introduced as “one of the finest investigative journalists in the United States today,” by Rev. Kenneth Clarke, director of Cornell United Religious Work, Hertsgaard has written articles for numerous magazines. He has also authored several books including Earth Odyssey, concerning current environmental issues.

While Hertsgaard had initially planned to address the environmental topics in Earth Odyssey, he decided to shift part of the focus of the lecture to current events.

“I am shocked by how little Americans think about the world,” Hertsgaard said, offering as example the different interpretations of Sept. 11 presented in other countries; he was in Europe when he got news of the attacks.

He criticized the American media for not investigating the causes of unrest in other countries that lead to extremism and terrorism, stating that those attempting to look at this side of the issue are called anything from “a lily-livered liberal to an outright traitor.”

“We are the richest, most powerful nation on earth. The United States can do what it wants, when it wants, and if others don’t like it, too bad,” he said.

Hertsgaard attributed terrorism to poverty and social disparity in other nations, adding that “we cannot expect to have that disparity and maintain a peaceful world.”

He explained that, when people “are poor, and see no future, they will find it more tempting to be beguiled” by passionate leaders such as Osama Bin Laden.

To reinforce his argument, Hertsgaard cited a Central Intelligence Agency report entitled “Global Trends 2015” that predicted an increase in terrorism and violent acts directly related to increasing poverty worldwide.

Shifting his attention back to the issues addressed in his book Earth Odyssey, Hertsgaard went on to discuss his ideas for environmental reform, with a plan he called the “Global Green Deal.”

“The Global Green Deal starts from a fact well-known to environmentalists but much less appreciated by opinion leaders and the general public: We have in hand most of the technologies to chart a new course [in public policy],” Hertsgaard posted on the program website.

“You as taxpayers pay for 250,000 cars a year,” Hertsgaard said, adding that these vehicles are purchased by the government to be used as mail trucks, police cars, etc.

The plan of the Global Green Deal in this case is to continue to purchase these cars from automakers, but to mandate that the cars must be “green”, either electric or hydrogen fuel cell cars. Both of these options would cause less environmental degradation without costing jobs, according to Hertsgaard.

While still a burden for the taxpayers, this plan should be more appealing as there is a “quid pro quo for the citizens,” he said.

Another part of the plan includes increasing energy efficiency in China, second in world greenhouse gas emissions, which currently uses coal in excess.

Hertsgaard acknowledged that the Global Green Deal, while not providing the ultimate solution to environment problems, “buys some time to get other … reforms in place.”

Members of the audience raised questions as to what can be done on the Cornell campus regarding the plan, to which Hertsgaard replied that “Cornell has enormous influence … realize that you have that status.”

He also encouraged attendees to be persistent in expressing concerns to the government, stating that “it still can be forced to answer to the people if they push relentlessly,” in the form of protests and letters and other direct actions.

“The lecturer was engaging, and the audience participated actively,” Anjali DeSouza ’04 said. “He presented surprising statistics on socioeconomic issues.”

Archived article by Stacy Williams