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Where on Earth Are We Going? Hardcover – April 23, 2001
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[T]he enigmatic Maurice Strong is preparing his legacy. -- The Toronto Star
About the Author
The New York Times hailed Maurice Strong as the "Custodian of the Planet." He is perpetually on the short list of candidates for Secretary General of the United Nations. Among the hats he currently wears are: Senior Advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan; Senior Advisor to World Bank President James Wolfensohn; Chairman of the Earth Council; Chairman of the World Resources Institute; Co-Chairman of the Council of the World Economic Forum; member of Toyota's International Advisory Board. As advisor to Kofi Annan, he is overseeing the new UN reforms. Strong's most prominent and influential role to date was as Secretary General of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development -- the so-called Earth Summit -- held in Rio de Janeiro, which gave a significant push to global economic and environmental regulation.
Top customer reviews
In sum, this book is a bit of a juggling act, but then juggling countless pursuits has been Strong's forte throughout his life, with the flair and genius of a real performer. If you don't expect a thorough, focussed treatment of one subject, you can surely find something of value in its abundance.
As a final note: the book would have benefitted from more proofreading than it got. There are numerous errors of syntax, punctuation, and the like--even a reversal of pages (346 & 347)--that should have been caught before publication.
The book is invaluable for its vivid portrayal of the details and complexities that those less well situated are unable to write about first hand, such as 99% of the world's writers. If you want to understand the nitty gritty of how global environmentalism works and why, "Where on Earth Are We Going?" will take you there.
It will also take you to where I wanted to go in the fall of 2001, when I read the book. That's the year I made the move to working on the sustainability problem full time. I had a lot of learning to do, and Maurice Strong filled in huge gaps in my education.
He also pointed out some of the phenomena that were beginning to attract my analysis. For example, looking over my notes on the book, Maurice explained how solving the poverty problem came to be linked to solving the environmental sustainability problem. To me this has been a historical error for two reasons: One is that the environment must have the highest priority, because if it becomes uninhabitable, then no other problem matters. The second is that Homo sapiens has had the poverty problem for a long, long time--it's that difficult. To attempt to suddenly solve it now by tacking it onto the shoulders of another problem only makes that problem a harder one to solve.
Maurice was the Secretary-General of the 1972 Stockholm conference, which gave him the ultimate insider's viewpoint. He wrote that "The biggest threat to the conference was the ambivalence, even apathy, that developing countries felt toward the whole issue of the environment. From the beginning, developing countries had regarded the West's concern with `the environment' as just another fad of the industrialized countries; in their view pollution and environmental contamination were diseases of the rich.... Most of them would gladly exchange a little pollution for the benefits of economic growth."
Seeing this undercurrent, Maurice "... knew the conference would fail if we couldn't persuade the developing countries to take part. ... The key concept called for a redefinition and expansion of environment to link it directly to the economic development process and the concerns of developing countries."
This was a fateful decision. The solution to the poverty problem of unindustrialized countries was assumed to be development, and the strategy was to "link" this development to solving the environmental sustainability problem. But these are really two very different and separate problems. By linking them together, into what was soon called "sustainable development," the world's problem solvers horse traded one historically intractable problem and one brand new difficult but probably solvable problem into guess what? One big Gordian Knot of an insolvable problem.
Once the offer was made, there was no turning back. Twisted logic became the new norm, such as "The key was to insist that the needs of developing countries would be best served by treating the environment as an integral dimension of development rather than an impediment." But if a country grows economically, and that causes the environment to suffer, then that effect should be treated as "an impediment," not success. Otherwise you have apparently forgotten about the original problem.
Soon, despite the fact that the industrialized countries were producing the lion's share of pollution, "...at the opening session Prime Minister [Indira] Gandhi made what was one of the most influential speeches of the entire conference, with its theme that `poverty is the greatest polluter of all.' "
This should give you a taste of what the book has to offer. If, like me, you are trying to wrap your arms around the whole of the sustainability problem, and you want original source material, then this is one fount to drink deeply from, and find out where on earth we are going, and why.