March 29, 2002

Sachs Speaks About Ecological Concerns

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Wolfgang Sachs, former chair of Greenpeace Germany, spoke on the Earth’s biophysical limits in relation to human civilization in a lecture at Anabel Taylor hall entitled “Ecology and Equity: From Rio 1992 to Johannesburg 2002,” yesterday.

Sachs discussed the challenges that humanity will face in the future, citing the growing economy, increasing instances of violence, and methods of justice in connection with the Earth’s resources from Sept. 11 to climate change and human rights.

Members in last night’s audience were looking forward to a discourse on development and environmental issues from the point of view of a non-American.

“He might say something about America that you might not hear from other Americans,” said Ithacan Petra Hepburn.

Her husband, Richard Hepburn, was looking for an ideas on how to “save the race.”

According to Sachs, “saving the race” is a question of dealing with the upcoming collision between “transnational justice” and the Earth’s biophysical limits in this century. Transnationalization, or the gradual fading of borders across nations, is spreading from trade and business to violence and justice. Sachs referred to the attacks on the World Trade Center, which were perpetrated not by nations or states, but by individuals, to explain how the world is losing its sense of territory.

Sachs used the metaphor of an economic “pie” to describe the increasing production possibilities nations have today. Sachs said that this increasingly robust pie was leaving an “environmental footprint,” which “is overshooting the environmental capacity of the Earth.”

Furthermore, Sachs spoke about justice and peace.

“Justice and limits have to be thought together … everybody is going to be everybody’s neighbor in this world,” said Sachs.

Sachs offered recognizing the “Declaration of Independence” as an unattainable ideal. The conditions that the Earth will offer humanity in the future will force a collective signing of a “Declaration of Interdependence.”

To respond to the biophysical limit, humanity will need to shift from a “fossil economy” to a post-fossil economy; one which puts much less of a strain on the dwindling resources of nature, according to Sachs.

“More important than poverty alleviation is wealth-alleviation,” Sachs said.

Sach’s message is that few benefit from the race for wealth, and the expense falls upon the world in the form of climate change and poor ecology. Sachs told his audience that ecology equity is a human right, and it cannot be compromised.

Sachs concluded with his method of achieving the ideal, “global justice,” for humanity in the new century; “not to learn to give more, but learn to take less.”

Sachs has taken time off from his preparatory committee for the World Summit in Johannesburg this year to visit Cornell. Sachs will be engaged in talks with students and faculty of Cornell’s Rural Sociology department.

Archived article by Sun Staff