20 years on Worldwatch finds progress slow and jerky

Posted: 23 October 2007

World Watch magazine is celebrating its 20th anniversary next year. To mark the event it has asked its original contributors to assess what has happened to their calls then for action over climate change, for more sustainable farming, for a swirch to renewable energy and a vote for politicians who inderstand what is at stake. The answer seems to be slow progress.

In one of his first articles for the magazine, Christopher Flavin described NASA scientist James Hansen's groundbreaking testimony on the clear scientific evidence of global warming as a public policy "turning point." Today, in "The Heat Was On," Flavin laments the failure of governments to enact many of the policy recommendations he and other experts made two decades ago.

But, Flavin notes, as the scientific and public consensus on climate change has grown in the past year, many of these policy ideas are nowmoving forward: "The powerful interaction of innovative policies, advances in technology, and growing investment have led to a pace ofchange in energy markets unseen since men like Thomas Edison and Henry Ford created the last great energy revolution a century ago," he writes.

Contributors Hilary French and William Chandler also point to the slow progress made in addressing climate change, noting that the effects on the planet have taken hold sooner than expected. They look to the UnitedNations-led climate negotiations that will resume in Bali in December, and to energy efficiency, as key elements of the solution.

Unstoppable force

In his 1988 article "Car Crash," Worldwatch Institute researcher Michael Renner predicted that "auto production [was] not likely to rebound to the high evel once forecast. It could even decline." He writes today that global output of passenger cars in fact doubled from 27 million in 1982 to 49 million in 2006. Renner observes that the automobile appears to be an unstoppable force, despite its hugely destructive impact, and calls for accelerated efforts in public transport.

Other contributors note that progress has been made in many areas. Marcy Lowe reports that the American public is now beginning to make theconnection between the farm economy, which heavily subsidizes the main ingredients of "junk food," and human health-in particular the growingobesity epidemic. Also encouraging are several initiatives that China has launched to prevent its looming water shortages, which water expertSandra Postel warned of after visiting that country in 1988.

And former Worldwatch researcher Alan Thein Durning writes that positive trends such as the dramatic growth in wind power capacity and risinginterest in once-lofty concepts such as tax shifting and carbon neutrality are part of a slow-motion sustainability volution. "Movements for fundamental change always unfold over many years, in fits and starts. Even the most visionary leaders cannot predict their course, but only their ultimate success," he observes.

See Worldwatch website at www.worldwatch.org