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Nobel Laureate Óscar Arias: "Peace, Development and the Environment are Universal Concerns"
War and military spending are draining resources from global efforts to fight poverty and restore the environment, former Costa Rican President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Óscar Arias Sánchez said 7 September at AAAS. He urged the United States and other industrialized nations to take the lead in reducing greenhouse gasses that feed global warming, and urged developing nations to avoid their environmentally damaging mistakes as they strive to catch up with affluent nations.
"The triple challenges of peace, development and the environment are universal concerns and as such demand immediate, coordinated global action," Arias said as he delivered the annual Robert C. Barnard Environmental Lecture at AAAS. "Environmental protection is necessary for long-term economic growth, and vice versa. But without peace, neither goal is achievable."
Even small steps toward demilitarization can improve quality of life throughout society as reduced military spending liberates enormous resources for human development and environmental conservation, he said. In 2002, for example, $800 billion, or 2.5 percent of the world gross domestic product, was dedicated to military expenditures worldwide, according to the United Nations Human Development Program. Only 5 percent of that amount, or $40 billion, would have been sufficient to fund basic improvements in education, healthcare, nutrition, potable water quality, and sanitation for the entire world, Arias said.
"In other words," he added, "it would take only a modest shift in global priorities to alleviate these seemingly intractable development challenges."
Arias' message was underscored on 8 September, a day after his address at AAAS, when Costa Rica's highest court ruled that the country's presence on a White House list of coalition partners in the war with Iraq violated its pacifist principles. Costa Rica's current president, Abel Pacheco, said his country was on the list only because of its opposition to dictatorship and terrorism; the country had committed no troops or money to the Iraq war. But on 9 September, the Costa Rican government formally asked to be removed from the coalition list, and the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush complied.
Arias, one of the most respected political figures in the Americas, witnessed the benefits of demilitarization first-hand in 1987, when five Central American presidents signed a peace accord that established a disarmament policy with respect for national sovereignty. The new policy prompted the United States to withdraw funding for contras who were operating within Costa Rica to bring down the Sandinista government of neighboring Nicaragua. Today, Arias said, former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) training facilities have been transformed into campsites and research stations; secret landing strips have been reforested and more than 2,500 elementary students annually learn basic biology in the environmentally protected parks.
"Faced with environmental challenges, leaders must develop meaningful objectives and be willing to propose and implement policies to achieve them," he said. "This is as true for the mayor of a small village who discovers that farm chemicals are killing local rivers, as for the president of a world super-power seeking to reduce his country's greenhouse gas emissions."
Arias urged political leaders to face environmental challenges such as rising carbon-dioxide levels, and to implement corrective policies based on sound science. Leadership must come first from the industrialized world, and in particular, from nations producing the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions, he said, emphasizing that "as the world's greatest polluter, the United States has a special responsibility in this regard."
Developing nations, too, must share in the responsibility, he said. By 2025, the CO2 emissions from those countries are likely to exceed those of the so-called First World. "It is clear that developing countries must come up with innovative mechanisms to grow more cleanly and efficiently that our predecessors," Arias said. In their striving for greater productivity, developing countries need not repeat the mistakes of those countries that industrialized in the 19th and 20th centuries."
But, he said, poverty marks a devastating divide between those two blocs, and in a world where millions endure extreme misery, none will ever be secure.
"In the developing world, damage to the environment goes hand in hand with human misery," Arias said. "In the struggle for survival that grips four-fifths of our planet's population, the poor are often forced to consume whatever resources are at hand, burning down forests for pasture and farm land and over-cultivating the entire agroscape.
"The world needs developing countries to conserve their remaining tropical forests and even to regrow them," he added. "Developing countries, at the same time, need the world to support and cooperate with us in this endeavor."
From this tangle of conflicts and dangers, Arias says, a fundamental truth arises for both sides: "We cannot afford to focus only on our own interests, our own people, our own problems."
The Robert C. Barnard Lecture is delivered each year during orientation activities for AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowspost-doctoral to mid-career scientists who serve one to two years in congressional offices and agencies of the United States government. Cynthia R. Robinson, director of the AAAS program, said Arias "has been a tireless advocate for global peace and security. These are essential for positive exchange of information and international scientific collaboration to take advantage of the best science to foster human development. As a political leader, Dr. Arias understands well the value of science and technology to sound policy and practice."
Endowed by the international law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton, the Robert C. Barnard Environmental Lecture honors its namesake, counsel to the firm, for his contributions to environmental and public health law. This year's free, public lecture gave Washingtonians "an opportunity to become better acquainted with a leading figure who has made outstanding contributions to the improvement of the Earth's environment," said Albert H. Teich, director of Science and Policy at AAAS.
27 September 2004
See also, complete text of Arias's lecture.