Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Environmental Front Moves Ahead Slowly

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Environmental Front Moves Ahead Slowly

Article excerpt

SOMETIMES it's good to look up from the political trench warfare over environmental protection and gauge the big picture. What are the signs that progress is occurring, the indicators that beliefs and practices are changing? Snapshots from around the world might not give one a lot of hope.

Chinese officials last week announced that rapid economic growth had come at the expense of the environment. Few of the major cities meet air-quality standards. Acid rain and the poaching of protected wildlife are big problems. Illegal polluters, like small-scale cement factories, paper mills, and petrochemical plants, "have staged a comeback," an official said.

In Russia, 150 nuclear-power-plant workers traveled to Moscow to demonstrate against low wages and lack of funds for routine maintenance. "The whole supply system, right from the extraction of uranium to the reactor stage, has broken down," union leader Nikolai Krivtsov warned. In Ukraine, the International Atomic Energy Agency warned that Chernobyl (where the world's worst nuclear accident occurred in 1986) still isn't up to international safety and security standards.

Two environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Defense Fund, reported that the World Bank continues to fund huge dams and fossil-fuel power plants, which may be good investments for donor countries but aren't necessarily the best thing for developing countries.

And at the United Nations in New York, the Vatican (together with some Gulf Arab states) is doing everything it can to head off population-reduction measures at a conference in Cairo this September. If successful, as these opponents of population control have been in other international forums, they could undermine one of the fundamental ways of bringing about sustainable development.

But these troubling signs also have a positive aspect.

One legitimate reason for concern about population programs can be found in recent news from the Indian state of Punjab. There, the 22-million population has a ratio of 820 women for every 1,000 men. Why the disparity? Because prenatal gender-determination tests have meant disproportionate abortions of female fetuses so that poor families won't have to pay large dowries. …

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