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Pollution Crusade

In response to:

Mysterious Japan: A Diary from the June 4, 1970 issue

To the Editors:

…It’s frustrating to have [in Wassily Leontief’s “Mysterious Japan: A Diary,” NYR, June 4] the statements of an international group of medical men, sanitary engineers (nowadays known as “environmental engineers,” by the way), and economists passed off with

[they] spoke of sulphur monoxide released into the air, of oil sludge discharged into the water, of asthma and respiratory diseases, and of various methods of eliminating or at least mitigating the effects of these and other specific undesirable by-products of modern technology and economic growth.

It was Japanese economists, after all, who early this year advised their Prime Minister to call for an increase in the rate of population growth—which shows a certain insensitivity to a major environmental problem! I would like to have heard more explicitly how economists hope to reconcile the goal of nonstop economic growth with the preservation of any sort of livable environment!

I would also like to comment on Mr. Leontief’s opinion that

Mr. Nixon’s anti-pollution crusade presents a skillful and unfortunately successful attempt to divert public attention from more fundamental, albeit more conventional, social and economic issues….

I agree that this was Mr. Nixon’s intent, but I question, first, whether the “more conventional” issues actually are more fundamental. Pollution is rapidly passing the point where it is only an upper-middle-class aesthetic problem; it is one of survival, especially when combined with the probability that the world’s population is already well above the number that can be continuously sustained. Much of modern industrial technology is based on processes which are by nature polluting and disruptive of biological and geochemical cycles. The changes in our way of life that will be necessary to live within the means of our planet, especially the need to discard the goal of an expanding economy and to establish a static one at a much lower level than the one we presently maintain, will be fundamental indeed. Mr. Nixon may well come to wish he had never unleased this diversionary monster!…

Allen M. Moore

Faculty Adviser

SCAPE (Students Concerned About Population and the Environment)

Western Carolina University

Cullowhee, N.C.

Wassily Leontief replies:

While not pretending to give a summary of reports presented by the environmental engineers, my reference to them was intended not to denigrate but, on the contrary, to emphasize the constructive nature of their contributions. I hope that Dr. Moore—after rereading my remarks—will agree with all the other readers who interpreted my wording in this way.

I, on my part, am prepared to share his hope that irrespective of the use Mr. Nixon intended to make of the anti-pollution movement (he seems to link it with Dr. Billy Graham’s revivalist crusade), a determined and uncompromising stand against environmental disruption will become an integral part of all progressive programs for economic and social reform.

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