Western Europe's leaders are worried. Scientists, political leaders, even members of royalty are urging concerted, united action on the common enemy widespread, nearly uncontrolled pollution and environmental decay. The very heritage of Europe's rich cultural past is at stake.
Strasbourg, France WESTERN EUROPE is threatened. The danger this time is not from without that is, Communist aggression but rather from within. It is Europe's own burgeoning prosperity that is threatening to swamp the continent under a swelling tide of pollution.
The Rhine "Sewer of Europe"
The most important environmental conference ever held in Europe was recently concluded here in this somber French city on the Rhine River. The Rhine. This aquatic superhighway, the world's busiest river, exemplifies the gravity of Europe's environmental crisis. It is a crisis that spans national borders. The Rhine, pure at its glacial source, rises in Switzerland. Halfway on its course to the sea it has accumulated 24,000 "undesirable organisms" per cubic centimeter. By the time it courses through the industrial heartland of Germany and finally empties into the North Sea through the Netherlands, the Rhine has picked up the burden of a dozen additional major cities, plus the wastes of numerous tributaries. Its germ tally amounts to a phenomenal 2,000,000 per cubic centimeter! Little wonder the Rhine is called "the sewer of Europe." And the microbe count, of course, says nothing of the abundant array of industrial wastes and toxic chemicals the river transports, or of the occasional chemical spill that can kill millions of fish. Such an accidental spill killed an estimated 40 million fish along a 250-mile stretch of the Rhine last summer. "Rivers of air" prevailing air currents also are internationalizing Europe's contamination. The problem was dramatized a year ago when "black snow," actually grayish snow with black spots, fell on eastern Norway and western Sweden. Swedish scientists concluded the airborne pollutants had wafted in from West Germany's Ruhr district. It was against the background of these and similar examples that the European Conservation Conference was held.
European Conservation Year
The conference was organized by the Council of Europe, the leading nonpolitical consultative organization in Europe. The assembly, designed to stress the urgent need for European cooperation on environmental issues, kicked off the Council's "European Conservation Year." Participating were Prince Philip of Britain, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands, and Prince Albert of Liege (brother of King Baudouin of Belgium), along with about 350 government experts, parliamentarians, conservationists, educators, and industrialists. Besides the Council of Europe member states, several other European states together with delegates from the United States and Canada and 60 international organizations were in attendance. In their speeches the three members of royalty clearly traced Europe's environmental crisis to three factors population, urbanization and industrialization. And behind these secondary causes, they noted, lay the primary causes of human greed, the boundless appetite of affluent Europeans for more and more material goods, and, as Prince Albert stated it, man's breaking of the "immutable laws" which govern the earth and all life upon it. (See accompanying excerpts from the speeches of Prince Philip and Prince Albert) This reporter noted that royalty, being above politics, can and do speak out much more boldly on major issues than do elected officials. In the three subsequent days of the conference, officials from all the member nations discussed the horrendous chronicle of environmental woes.
Populations Grow So Do Cities
"We cannot postpone decisions any longer. The burden of responsibility rests squarely on us and our generation." The following are excerpts of a speech given by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at the opening ceremony of the European Conservation Conference in Strasbourg, France, February 9, 1970. People realize that the last hundred years have witnessed a scientific and technological explosion. Most people are now aware that there has also been an increase in human population to almost plague proportions. What is less obvious perhaps is that this fall-out from the technological explosion has littered Europe with immense industrial complexes belching pollution into the air and into the water; while the increase in human population has created cities bigger than the world has ever known and intense over-crowding in almost all parts of the country. Between them technology and mankind have created a vast network of road, rail and air transport systems and a problem in refuse and waste disposal which has completely defeated our efforts to control it. For generations agriculture has been a partnership with nature. Today the pressure to increase output is so intense that farmers have to grasp at every chemical and mechanical means of increasing production and they have to bring every available acre into use. Intensive research helps them to destroy pests and weeds, but their destruction inevitably interferes with some long established delicate food chain. Today factory methods have taken over in crop and animal production. This combined assault on the land, on the air, on the water and on the last food supplies of wild populations is rapidly destroying a large number of other living things and threatening many more which are not immediately useful or profitable to man. Above all we have got to face the unpalatable fact that the conservation of our environment is going to cost a very great deal of money, and the denser the human population becomes the more expensive it will be. Destruction of wildlife cannot be reversed. We cannot postpone decisions any longer. The burden of responsibility rests squarely on us and our generation. Even without any further research we know enough to be able to put many things right. We also know quite enough to be able to say in which direction research programs should be aimed. More research is certainly needed but we must at all costs guard against the temptation to allow research programs to become excuses for doing nothing else. Research and action must go on at the same time. It is just as well to recognize that any measures taken to protect our environment will be unpopular in some quarters and they will inevitably cut across national boundaries. They will certainly be condemned as unwarranted interference or for preventing necessary development. Some will be politically inconvenient. Others will be dismissed as administratively awkward. The problem which confronts this Conference, which confronts Europe and indeed the whole world, is to decide what restrictions are necessary to protect our natural environment from our own exploitation. It is totally useless for a lot of well meaning people to wring their hands in conference and to point out the dangers of pollution or destruction of the countryside. If no one is willing or capable of taking any action, it will be a waste of time and effort to establish even the most brilliant advisory body if there is no way of putting its advice into effect. This great Conference itself will mean nothing at all in spite of the wisdom of its distinguished members if it does not lead to practical conservation measures in every European country. All its discussions and resolutions will quickly disappear into the polluted atmosphere, if this meeting doesn't produce more closely organized international co-operation between responsible and effective government departments. All the impassioned speeches will be so much effluent under the bridge unless it is followed by drastic political action. Time is fast running out and it remains to be seen whether those in political authority can shoulder their responsibilities in time and act quickly enough to relieve a situation which grows more serious every day.
Europe is already the most densely populated continent. Yet, even with the lowest current rate of increase, it is projected that in three decades Europe's population will rise by another 200 million inhabitants. Worse, the vast majority of these will crowd into already congested areas. Europe was not always this way. In the 18th century 80% of the population was still employed in agriculture and lived in the country. Then the industrial revolution radically altered the situation. In highly industrialized European countries the agricultural population is now less than 20%. In the future the percentage will tend to fall yet further perhaps as low as 3.2%. The Netherlands is a case in point. In this densely packed nation, a land with a great tradition of agrarian activity, the percentage of the population employed in agriculture decreased from 45% in 1850 to 9% in 1968. It is estimated that this figure will be reduced to about 3% by the end of this century. And in only a few years' time it is expected that the built-up areas between Amsterdam and the Belgian frontier will form a single city. In France, the trend is much the same, even though a larger percentage of Frenchmen are rural dwellers. In France no less than 150,000 people working in agriculture leave the land every year to move to the cities. If the trend continues, the number of inhabitants of the towns, large and small alike, will have doubled by 1985. More than four fifths of the population will be concentrated in towns and cities by that date. An interesting statistic is that almost 60% of Parisians are born in the country. Even though a relative depopulation of the heart of the big cities is occurring in France, there is at the same time a strong increase in suburbanization.
This enormous "implosion" into cities and their sprawling unplanned suburbs has created, as Prince Albert called it, a "completely artificial civilization" for most Europeans. People's horizons have become extremely limited as they are further removed from natural surroundings. In a Council of Europe publication, parts of European suburbia were described as "individual houses, small, mediocre and monotonous, surrounded by tiny garden plots which are the only outlet for the personal taste of each owner, expressed in the idiosyncratic arrangement of his scrap of kitchen garden, his patch of lawn, his few yards offence, with the result that these dreary plots combine the worst features of uniformity and diversity alike." This perceptive report added: "The final decline of the area resulting from this nondescript concentration of separate houses is difficult to prevent, precisely because this type of housing fulfills the deepest dreams of the great majority of the population in certain countries. In France, for instance, an enquiry elicited that 82 percent of the French prefer small houses to flats, and the devotion to a small garden may well be attributed to the resurgence of a peasant past which, in a population only recently urbanized, is never far distant." Such type housing, unfortunately, is also the dream of most Britons as well. Over 40% of the population in the United Kingdom is jammed into six giant conurbations. This, realize sociologists, is simply no way to live.
Chaos in the Countryside
Concurrent with the rush to the cities has been a phenomenal rush out of the cities into the countryside for holidays and recreational activities. Affluence, too, fuels the rapid growth in leisure. An entire session at the Strasbourg conference was devoted to the detrimental impact of leisure activities upon Europe's ecology. New roads and airports rip up thousands of acres of greenery every year, much of it to fill the tourist and recreational requirements of affluent, highly mobile, urban escape-seekers. The total number of automobiles in the 17 Council of Europe nations has increased from 21 million to nearly 50 million in only seven years! Increasing numbers of human feet, sometimes even motorcycles, trample the fragile ecology of coastal sand dune areas of England and Denmark. Parts of the Mediterranean coast are becoming overdeveloped tragedies. Haphazard construction of both summer and winter homes worries officials of Europe's most scenic lands. In Norway and Sweden, increasing second home development in mountain areas not served by sewage systems has resulted in considerable pollution of local streams. In Norway, less than 3 percent of second homes are connected to a common sewage system.
Foul Air, Fetid Water
"Self-discipline, a return to reason is the mental revolution that the industrial world must accept..." The following are excerpts of a speech given by His Royal Highness Prince Albert of Liege at the opening ceremony of the European Conservation Conference. We are here to launch a campaign which, we hope, will influence not only the action of governments but also and especially the behavior of individuals. For a year we in Europe shall be talking about nature, about that nature whose immutable laws man thought he could violate with impunity, and which is now beginning to take its revenge. Today, those who know most about the matter have become frightened and are wondering what to do.... We must prevent the problems of environment, which are such a marvelous subject for speeches, being talked about so often that the public become bored with them and abandon them to the skeptics. That is a real danger that we have to avoid. Let us be honest enough to get to the bottom of the matter and ask ourselves what has made the problem so acute during the last twenty-five years. It is certainly the growth in population, but above all it is the technological upheaval which makes man hope for more material good fortune and therefore induces him to produce and consume still more.... The most serious thing for the community is not so much the constraints imposed by these new and often superfluous needs. It is not even that this artificial life makes man forget the simple pleasures. It is that, under our present system, each private producer manufactures what he thinks he can sell and he hopes to be able to sell more and more of it without considering the social cost of his activities, for that is traditionally the task of the public authorities. What does it matter if millions of acres of land are converted into roads or car-parks, if millions of tons of rubbish are buried, burned or thrown into the sea? What does it matter if ever-increasing quantities of raw materials are torn from the soil as if they were inexhaustible and as if their disappearance made no difference? Mankind makes a god of economic growth and thinks only of speeding it up without, however, being willing to pay the price. Men seem to believe that if technology upsets nature, technology can also repair the damage or, if need be, can protect them from the results of this dangerous disorder. Will it be our lot one day to see the sorcerer's apprentices that we have become, going on our picnics dressed in space-suits like those worn by the cosmonauts? I sincerely believe that the best of enterprises, such as your own, will remain a dead letter if we do not tackle the problem at its roots. There are some needs that are essential; some targets of progress are reasonable; but it is no longer healthy to accept this rat race to destruction in the name of so-called progress which is really anarchy. Man must learn to divide the spoils if the species are to survive, and to curb his appetites. Self-discipline, a return to reason is the mental revolution that the industrial world must accept, and which I believe will condition everything else. May I now come back to my last point. Shall I be out of order if I suggest a new attitude to meet this frenzy of economic development? Am I naive to suppose that man will improve to the point of becoming less selfish and restraining his appetite for gain? Am I blind to the point of delusion in believing that when the human species scents danger it will react to ensure its survival? I think not, so long as the threat is recognized and taken seriously. It is therefore imperative to state it clearly, completely and without pulling our punches to suit any particular vested interest. It will certainly not be easy to promote a new attitude that will harmonize the desire for progress with the needs dictated by fact and reason, more especially as the necessarily universal and worldwide nature of any planned action and the financial sacrifices it involves will be such as to discourage the waverers. But in all sincerity, have we any choice? Now that we are beginning to realize the magnitude and the gravity of the problem, dare we really let things slide and bequeath to future generations a completely artificial civilization in a poisoned and hostile environment which would leave precious little room for human beings? To do that would be to renounce the dignity of man.
Europe's leaders are not just concerned about the quality of life their peoples enjoy. They are above all worried about the health-destroying poisonous climate that increasing numbers of Europeans are forced to live in. Industrialization has brought a higher material standard of living but at a big price. Take Europe's air, for example. Madrid and Milan are in a race for the dubious honor of Europe's "smog capital." Rapid industrialization, mushrooming population and a fantastic increase in car ownership by an expanding middle class are the ingredients for Madrid's befouled atmosphere. The city was once noted for its pure air. In Milan, heart of Italy's industrial north, smog is so bad during the winter that some residents go about with handkerchiefs around their heads to cover nose and mouth. In the 1968-69 winter, 80 percent of Milan's children suffered respiratory ailments. All across Italy, art treasures are being irreparably damaged by industrial air pollution and automobile exhausts. The problem is especially acute in Venice. Europe's waters are reeling under an onslaught of industrial expansion. Most of Switzerland's big lakes are now polluted. Lake Zurich, once clean and productive, is now, according to a Council of Europe report, "an evil-smelling muddy sewer." Lake Constance is rapidly undergoing eutrophication. Lake Geneva is also suffering from pollution. Swiss chemical and textile industries are given much of the blame. Finland the famous land of lakes is under close scrutiny by ecologists. Already 10-15 percent of Finland's internal waters are polluted. Finnish industry is confined to the south, where the population density is also greatest. Contrary to what might be supposed, Finland has a poor supply of drinking water, because the many lakes are shallow and subject to rapid eutrophication as a result of discharge of domestic and industrial waste matter. Helsinki is supplied with drinking water from a lake 160 miles away. According to one Italian official, "a lot of Italian rivers have been changed into putrid reservoirs of sewage and industrial waste. Their waters can no longer be used even for irrigation." Throughout Italy, household and industrial liquid waste is dumped into waters with virtually no treatment. In the whole of Italy there are only thirty-two purification plants one plant for every thousand communities. Even the paltry few that exist are for the most part small and inefficient. A Dutch report shows the far-reaching international effects of water pollution in Europe. Seventy percent of the water in the Dutch river network comes from other countries and is thus already heavily polluted. The waters of the Rhine, for example, now show such an increase in chlorides that they are unsuitable for desalting the polders making Dutch land reclamation efforts extremely difficult. Such chlorides are of mineral origin and are dumped into the river in German coal-mining areas where saline water is pumped from the mines.
Europe's Future "Lake Eries"
Water pollution doesn't end when Europe's filthy rivers reach the sea. The Mediterranean and the Baltic Seas receive a good share of Europe's washed-in pollution. Parts of the two virtually landlocked inland seas, says one British official, could become as polluted as the eastern part of Lake Erie, where many feet of mucky sediment have accumulated. A French specialist in marine pollution warns of unlimited construction and industrial expansion along France's Mediterranean shore. Unless firm measures are taken, he says, the continental shelf of France could become one sterile stretch of black muck from the Spanish to the Italian border. Some fish species have already disappeared from accustomed grounds along the French Riviera. And along the coasts of Versilia, southern Tuscany, and Latium in Italy, marine pollution is killing coastal pines. Long adapted to saltwater spray, the pines there now are dying where the polluted spray hits them.
What to Do?
At the end of the Strasbourg conference, delegates endorsed a resolution calling for an urgent European ministerial meeting to coordinate existing international environmental projects. It was proposed that such a high-level meeting seriously consider the establishment of a European political authority to supervise the management of the continent's environment. But giant obstacles lie in the path of the establishment of such a supranational body with enough political muscle to act. First, the experience in the United States proves the frustrating difficulty of coordinating efforts among states, counties and municipalities, to do battle with commonly shared pollution problems. In Europe, the problem is compounded by the existence of completely sovereign nations, each with its own goals and aims, quite often in conflict with neighboring states. West Germany, for example, is not likely to sacrifice its industrial growth rate to solve Europe's environmental problems unless France, Italy and every other industrial competitor in Europe does likewise. And the problem is compounded still further. Europe as a whole is not likely to sacrifice its industrial growth industrial might means international power and prestige unless its two chief world competitors, the United States and the Soviet Union, do likewise. A British delegate warned that there was a danger of upsetting the structure of international industrial competition if industry in one country took anti-pollution measures which put up prices for its goods.
World Control Needed Most of All
Pollution is worldwide. The United States contributes a big share. So does Europe both Western Europe and the Communist bloc in its haste for industrial expansion. Pollution control must be tackled not on a national or continental front but on a world basis. Yet, there is no single coordinated attack. Instead there is a proliferation of various international bodies and organizations, each studying the environmental crisis, each recommending courses of action with often contradictory conclusions yet all with pitifully weak power to act. The Common Market is investigating pollution in Europe. So is UNESCO. So is NATO formerly restricted to defense matters. So is the Council of Europe. What is really needed now is a world government. A government that stands above the conflicting selfish interests and wasteful pursuits of men and nations. And a government, furthermore, that shows man the right way to live and how to get in harmony with "immutable laws" to use Prince Albert's phraseology. There are both spiritual laws governing human relationships and physical laws governing nature and the earth's life systems. But man though reaping the penalty of breaking these laws is woefully ignorant of them. The PLAIN TRUTH is not alone in recognizing this compelling need for a world government. Norman Cousins, editor of Saturday Review recently put it this way: "Humanity needs a world order. The fully sovereign nation is incapable of dealing with the poisoning of the environment. Worse than that, the national governments are an important part of the problem. They create anarchy on the very level where responsible centers and interrelationships are most needed. ... The nations in their external roles become irresponsible engines of spoilage and destruction. "The management of the planet, therefore, whether we are talking about the need to prevent war or the need to prevent ultimate damage to the conditions of life, requires a world government." The need was never more urgent.