The Gnat Is Older Than Man: Global Environment and Human Agenda

By Christopher D. Stone | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
The Condition of the Earth
from the Legal Perspective

ASTRONAUT AND DIPLOMAT

WHY DO planetwide environmental problems arise, and why do they persist? There are many explanations. Some commentators stress the surge of human population, with the consequent pressures on land, fuel, and other resources. Some point to two-edged “advances” in technology, for whose benefits we pay a Faustian price in hazardous wastes and nonbiodegradable trash. Others pin our predicament on capitalism, or on defects of the human spirit that spring forth in rapacity or a pathological need to dominate Nature. 1 Still others claim the world would do all right were it not for the ineptness and belligerence of local governments, which have been slow to adopt available technologies and to reform administrative practices such as land and water policies. There may be some element of truth in all of those claims—as we shall see.

But granted the manifold origins of our earthly plight, the most important focus should be on the cure. Given the growing worldwide concern that we are veering toward environmental shoals, why do our social institutions have such a hard time correcting our course?

There is a powerful if prosaic place for an understanding of our planetary predicament to begin: from the perspective of an astronaut, at a distance from which the political boundaries, the pointed message of traditional schoolroom maps, are indiscernible. From that remove, what strikes the imagination is the marvelous wholeness of the planet and the globe-spanning activities that connect and sustain its tenants. There is one great envelope of atmospheric gases, the vast body of ocean, the collusive currents of air and water, the broad belts of photosynthesizing vegetation, the complex of plants

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