World Watch Magazine: September / October 2001 Edition

WORLDWATCH MAGAZINE: September / October 2001 Edition



George W. Bush's cites his concern about the "uncertain science" of global warming to justify the U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto treaty process. But according to a report in the September/October edition of World Watch magazine, Bush's decision is actually based on the far-more uncertain science of long-term economic forecasting.


"In rejecting the Kyoto treaty, the Bush administration is using outdated economic assumptions that will stifle technological innovation and actually reduce our economic well-being in the long run," says Robert U.Ayres, the author of "How Economists Have Misjudged Global Warming."


According to Ayres, the real history of technological development-which neoclassical economists rarely examine closely-shows both of these assumptions to be false. In his article, he demonstrates that, contrary to neoclassical belief, government interventions have been major factors in many of the most important technological developments since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Moreover, technological innovation has typically come as a response to scarcity, war, or the emergence of new needs created by other technologies.


Therefore the threat of global warming presents a prime opportunity for research and development investments that will likely trigger a whole new wave of technological progress and economic growth. But by presenting the issue in deceptively simple cost-benefit terms, the administration has not only based its policy on an economic approach that quantifies the non-quantifiable, but that ignores spin-off benefits the transition to a carbon-free economy may have in store. Examples such as the Internet, argues Ayres, have shown that government initiative can stimulate economic growth by fostering technological innovation. Therefore, according to Ayres, "the intellectual argument underlying the Bush Administration's opposition to the Kyoto Protocol is completely fallacious." (Full story: page 12)




Throughout East Africa, the parasitic weed Striga hermonthica destroys billions of dollars of valuable crops each year. The biotechnology industry has proposed engineering corn and other crops for herbicide resistance, so that herbicide could be sprayed on the crop plants to kill the destructive weed.


In "Biotech, African Corn, and the Vampire Weed," Worldwatch research associate Brian Halweil argues instead that poor farmers would be much better served by the development of inexpensive local methods, rather than the quick fixes sold by multinational corporations.


"The bio-engineered corn approach would encourage monoculture," said Halweil. "It would undercut the process of correcting ecological imbalances that are at the root of pest problems." Halweil reports on the findings of a recent trip to East Africa, where he saw farmers who were already developing affordable home-grown alternatives. For example, they are using nitrogen-fixing fallow crops to promote overall soil health and have identified plants that secrete a chemical that interferes with the parasite's ability to tap into the roots of crop plants.


According to Halweil, these methods could, in combination with infrastructure improvements, be part of an effort to put research and development back into the hands of farmers and bolster the role of agriculture in protecting ecosystems. (Full story: page 26)





The Caves of Belize - Explorations on the Edge of Ecotourism, by Lisa Mastny


Matters of Scale: Travels and Tribulations


Vital Signs: The Killing of U.S. Alternative Energy R&D, by Michael Renner


Environmental Intelligence: Modern Agriculture's Role in Fostering Biodiversity, The UN-Crackdown on Conflict Diamonds, and Europe's Electronics Take-Back Law.




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