Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the UN Millennium Project.
by Giles Hewitt
New York (AFP) Mar 29, 2006
The cataclysmic consequences of unsustainable development pose a
challenge to the world that will make the war on terror seem a mere
distraction, a global environmental conference heard Tuesday.
In a keynote speech opening the fourth biennial State of the Planet
conference at New York's Columbia University, Jeffrey Sachs, director
of the UN Millennium Project, said ignorance, misplaced priorities and
indifference were keeping the world firmly on a path to disaster.
"Everything we think is at the core of our geopolitics -- the war on
terror, Islamic fundamentalism -- have almost nothing to do with the
real challenges we face on this planet," Sachs said.
"They are a distraction and a misunderstanding," he added.
Addressing the two-day forum's main topic -- the feasibility of
sustainable development for billions of people worldwide -- Sachs
painted a grim picture of systemic environmental collapse, coupled
with war, famine and pandemic disease.
The astonishing pace of economic growth in Asia and the increasing
demands of development in the industrialised world will in a matter of
decades, Sachs argued, impose a burden far beyond that which the world
is already woefully failing to carry.
"It is the central challenge we face on the planet," he said. "Every
single major ecological system we have is already under profound stress."
While highlighting climate change, deforestation, oceanic degradation
and population growth, Sachs, who is also director of the Earth
Institute at Columbia University, warned against viewing the problems
associated with unsustainable development as an esoteric issue for
"Politics is central," he said, condemning what he called the
"scientifically antagonistic" policies of the current US
administration under President George W. Bush.
"We're fighting all the wrong wars in this country," Sachs said,
adding that what the White House really needed was a subscription to
Scientific American magazine.
"Our political leaders do not have the training to understand these
issues," he said, citing the crisis in Sudan's western region of
Darfur which Sachs argued was primarily the result of water shortages
that had prompted conflict.
"We view these crises first as political crises when we should view
them as ecological crises," he said.
"And they will abound. They will get worse." Rajendra Pachauri,
chairman of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, warned of a dangerous disconnect between the makers of macro
development policy and the people their policies were meant to benefit.
"We need to listen to local voices and seek local solutions," Pachauri
"We need to think of a new form of democracy," he added, arguing that
freedom from tyranny was incomplete without freedom from poverty and want.
"Democracy is not merely holding elections," he said.
Source: Agence France-Presse
UN Millennium Project