VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE:
CONVINCE TO CONQUER
by Captain Jacques-Yves Cousteau
 
jacqueyves.gif
Jacques Yves Cousteau, lover of life
 
In June, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, hosted the unprecedented United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). As a specially invited guest, Captain Cousteau met with Fernando Colior de Mello, President of Brazil and of UNCED, King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden, UNCED, Secretary-General Maurice Strong, ministers, delegates, and other eminent persons. including President Bernard Dowiyogo of the Pacific island country of Nauru, and Dr. W. Jackson Davis, science adviser to Nauru. Nauru is the site of a recent Cousteau expedition.
 
Among the audience were an Amazonian tribesman, one of many spokespersons for indigenous peoples at UNCED. A film was shown which had been made by a Cousteau film team, visiting a favela, or slum, in Rio de Janeiro. In one of many UNCED displays, a 'lie-o-meter' used Plnocchio's famous nose to depict a nation's alleged prevarication.
 
Captain Cousteau delivered a major lecture to the distinguished assembly of world leaders, delegates and journalists attending the United Nations Conference. We present the text in full.

Rio, June 5, 1992.......

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,
 
Two days ago, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development was inaugurated. Whatever the difficulties encountered during the lengthy preparation of this Assembly, its importance was emphasized by President Fernando Collor de Mello when I visited him in Brasilia on December 11, 1991. He said: We cannot permit ... Rio to be just one more conference ... to discuss the problem of the devastation of the
planet. To make sure that the Conference will be a success, we must insist that heads of state come to this and be ready to discuss matters that we know are not easy to tackle.'
 
He was mentioning the problems of demography, of disparity between poor and rich countries, of climate changes, and of the threat to biodiversity.
 
I have had the opportunity, throughout 59 years of worldwide explorations, to witness and study two striking examples of ill-fated communities: Haiti and Easter Island, both victims of distressing ecological tragedies of our time. Easter Island has experienced the same uncontrolled development, which ended after 1,000 years of mishaps in the collapse of an original culture and the physical eradication of the islanders by a 'self-genocide.
 
Haiti is terribly overpopulated: 7.5 million people on an exiguous and impoverished land. Six children per family, but fathers of eleven are not rare. Nigh infant death rate, insufficient schooling, and misery due to ignorance, superstition and poor political management. Haitians, though, are beautiful, proud, intelligent, good-humored, and hardworking. But they have exhausted the marine resources of their narrow continental shelf. They have deforested, without precaution, two-thirds of their country and tropical rains have thereafter wiped out the soil, laying bare the ground rock and impeding agriculture for centuries to come. To cook their scanty meals, they continue to deforest, and turn wood into charcoal. We asked: 'What will you do when there is no wood left at all? 'That will be the end of the worldl Yes, the end of the world, they answered. Until then, the men of Haiti procreate, hoping that their male children will take care of their old fathers; and the women say, I am not the one to decide how many children I will have.'
 
The fuse connected to a demographic explosion is already burning. We have less than ten years to put it out. There should be a general mobilization to reverse the trend and to avoid the population big bang. But instead, there is a certain disarray about how to tackle such a giant threat.
 
Political changes will fail to resolve Haiti's tragedy, as this country will be poverty-stricken for many years. Maybe forever, because in certain cases environmental destruction may reach a point of no return.
 
In the seventh century A.D., as told by petrogiyphs, two large outriggers landed on a virgin, lush and uninhabited tropical island; two hundred Polynesians-men, women and children and pigs and hens landed on the beautiful beaches of Easter Island. They came from the Marquesas Islands, where they had been ostracized and chased after a tribal war.
 
For eight centuries after they settled, they cultivated, multiplied, and developed a unique civilization, a society divided into three castes: peasants, sculptors and priests. Their population reached the number of 70,000; ,famine, bloody revolts and social chaos brought about the total collapse of their society. When Dutch navigators landed at Easter Island in the seventeenth century, it was a barren, totally deforested piece of rock where a few hundred cannibals were hunting each other for survival. Easter Islands natural exuberance had expired under the load of too many consumers. All that remained were undecipherable tablets and proud statues, a stern warning to humankind of what will happen to Island Earth if humans do not strictly control their demography.
 
The fuse connected to a demographic explosion is already burning. We have less than ten years to put it out. There should be a general mobilization to reverse the trend and to avoid the 'population big bang." But instead, there is a certain disarray about how to tackle such a giant threat.
 
Soon after World War II, the Club of Rome revealed the cause-and-effect relationship between the drain on nonrenewable resources and the effects of expanding demography combined with increasing living standards. Today, such organizations as the United Nations Development Program and the Woridwatch Institute constantly reassess the consequences on the Human Development Index. The HDI is based on life expectancy, literacy and income. But all of those factors are influenced by the quality of world management and mainly by the terrifying rate at which the global population increases. In spite of some hard-won sporadic improvements, the balance sheet is bleak: Some countries still have a life expectancy of only 40 years. Global illiteracy remains close to 40 percent. More than one billion people live at the absolute poverty level. Two billion human beings have a decreasing quality of life.
 
But today, population increase has become exponential. It is no longer the time to discuss the theories of Malthus. During my lifetime -80 years only - the world population has more than tripled, jumping from 1.7 billion in 1910 to 5.4 billion today. If nothing drastic is done, in another 80 years, in 2072, population will triple again, reaching the absurd figure of 16 billion human beings. Every six months, the equivalent of France (50 million) is added. Every ten years, there is a new China born in the poorest regions of our Earth. Let us face it: Whether the level-off figure is 18,16,14, or even 12 billion, it is unacceptable. Even if we found a way to feed this human tidal wave, it would be impossible to provide this multitude with decent living conditions. Surviving like rats is not what we should bequeath to our children and grandchildren.
 
In November 1989, in Ottawa, Barber Conable, then President of the World Bank, expressed his anxiety about the constraints these billions of new human beings will impose on the planet, and the foreseeable drop in the quality of life of men and women.
 
Five months ago, speaking at the United Nations Salas Memorial Lecture, Robert McNamara asked the basic question: "Is the increase in human numbers and its environmental and developmental ramifica-tions a cause for concern?' After a thorough analysis of this crucial problem, he concluded that it is.
 
 A few months ago, at the initiative of their presidents, Sir Michael Atiyah and Dr. Frank Press, two of the most prestigious scientific communities of the world, the Royal Society of London and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, published a statement in which one can read: There is an urgent need to address economic activity, population growth and environmental protection as interrelated issues, and as crucial components affecting the sustainability of human society. The next 30 years may be cruciall On March 19, 1 interviewed Dr. Press, who declared to my cameras: 'Each additional person on Earh requires more resources, more food, more water; and each releases into the environment by-products that can affect the natural environment. We feel that unlimited growth of population means disaster and that science cannot rescue the world from the consequences of an unlimited population growth.'
 
Thus, the first priority of a concerned human community is to avoid famines. In the 1960s, an American geneticist, Norman Borlaug, developed new breeds of wheat to increase the production of food. The 'Green Revolution,' a consequence of his research, saved hundreds of millions of people from starvation, mainly in India, Pakistan and China. In 1970, Dr. Borlaug was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his memorable achievements. I discussed the future of farming technology with Dr. Borlaug in Geneva two weeks ago. "I call it the Population Monster," he said, 'that makes it impossible to improve the quality of life of the poor countries. In my acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, I said that, by improving the yield of wheat, rice and maize by a factor of three, I had provided the leaders of the world with a provision of 30 years to find solutions to the population problem. Today, they have wasted 22 years during which they did not even discuss the matter! With only a few years left before it will be too late, I warn them: There will not be another Green Revolution!'
 
To hearten public opinion, some technocrats spread a reassuring statement: 'Don't worry! If we ever run short of resources, we will dig into our Inexhaustible reserve: the sea.' And actually, fishing enterprises have improved, in scope and in efficiency. From 20 million tons in 1950, the total catch of the world fisheries today reaches a ceiling of 90 to 100 million tons. But at what price! Bigger ships, devastating nets and traps, sonar arid radar, and the unerring eyes of satellites spotting ocean temperature, tracking schools, revealing all spawning areas. But more than a reliable source of food for a hungry world, technology and larger fleets have only built a dangerous illusion: the myth of an inexhaustible sea.
 
How much food can fishing provide? The oceans cover 71 percent of the planet, but 92 percent of that is similar to a desert - which means that carbon production is less than 50 grams per square meter per year (man has nothing to do with this fact).
To start with, the global primary production (vegetable source of all animal forms) of the oceans is only half the primary production of land (55 billion compared to 115 billion tons). Second: The food chain is much more efficient on land than in the sea: Ten kilos of grass produce one kilo of cow or sheep or goat. But 10 tons of marine grass are needed to produce one kilo of tuna. Third: On land, we raise animals for food. In the sea, we hunt them (fishing is hunting). And as we already overfish, we have reduced fish stocks; overflshing is proven by the growing ratio of tonnage of ships versus the tonnage of fish. Fourth: The tonnage of catch is stable, but it is falsified. Twenty-seven percent of the catch is turned into fish flour for cattle! Fish to feed herbivoresi Fish as fertilizer ... to feed grass! The official 97 million tons from the sea should be compared with 2 billion 400 million tons from the land - a factor of 25. To sum up, the sea produces today a maximum of 35 grams per day per person, and this figure will drop to 10 grams per day per person if the population triples. Fifth: in fact, the prices rise faster for fish than for meat. And aquaculture has only been able to produce luxury food, like shrimp.
 
Conclusion: Not only are the resources from the sea negligible compared to agriculture, but we are already overexploiting, eating up the stocks to provide luxury food to the rich countries, which do not need it. If neither scientists, agronomists nor oceanographers can help solve the consequences of an exponential population growth, we should urgently find ways to fight Dr. Bourlaug's population monster, without resorting to any authoritarian measure. The demographic tsunami is everybody's business,
 
It is generally feared that obstacles to family planning are cultural (or spiritual), and as such, are impossible to get around. Facts prove the contrary. Italy, the country closest to the Vatican, has today the lowest natality in Europe and in the world; and Spain, also a Catholic country, is about the same case. The largest Muslim country, Indonesia, has developed an efficient action plan and now has a still-decreasing birthrate about one-third that of Kenya. Even the Voodoo priests are softening their stand. However, two formidable obstacles remain that must and can be overcome: the status of women and the insecurity of old age.
 
In all the countries with an excessive birthrate, women are segregated, deprived of appropriate health care; the rate of illiteracy among women is one-third higher than for men. Two examples of the importance of education of women:
 
South Yemen: Women's Illiteracy: 95% Birthrate: 3.4%
Thailand: Women's Illiteracy: 15% Birthrate: 1.3%
 
The same kind of proportionality exists between the birthrate and the percentage of GNP allocated to social security and eventually to retirement plans. Unfortunately, during the past 10 years in developing countries, the mean percentage of the national product allocated to health, social security and education has decreased by about 20 percent while defense expenditures have increased: Today, in less-favored nations, armies spend the same share of the budget as health and education combined, while this proportion is only 55 percent in the advanced nations.
 
A rough estimate of what an efficient plan would cost to provide drinking water to all and to implement the social promotion of women and decent security in old age amounts to 400 billion dollars a year, or about one-third of the aggregate global military budget. In a world of debts, deficits and armed conflicts, such a plan surely appears utopian. But the countdown has started, and future generations would not forgive us for having deliberately spoiled their last opportunity.
 
The capacity of our planet to sustain life - in other words, the habitability of Earth - is extremely difficult to assess. Temporary necessities or even simple temptations have unfortunately much more influence on the behavior of human beings than regards for the preservation of our heritage. Thus, developing nations, where, today, the only thing that develops is population, claim that the main problem Is an equitable sharing of resources rather than overpopulation or environmental protection, while many ecologists from more favored nations cry shame when people in Asia or Africa deforest for survival.
 
jdadson.gif.. 
 Jean Michel and Jacques Yves Cousteau on the Calypso
 
This misunderstanding between rich and poor countries is becoming bitter and may lead to violence, in the Southern nations, the 20th century has generalized poverty and hunger, while in the North and the West, it has generated confusion: confusion between instruction and education, pleasure and joy, money and morality, tradition and innovation, individual risks and risks imposed on others, even on those yet unborn. Universities have become employment agencies; free enterprise is leading to scandalous inequalities; the reign of the Golden Calf, to whose law we submit, is putting the finishing touches on the assassination of morality, which no society has yet been able to do without.
 
Students are incited to despise tradition for the sake of innovation, while it is tradition that offers the most fertile ground for creativity. From this confusion, from this absence of internal discipline, emerges the 'Me Society,' whose byword is:'Everyone has the right to everything - including the superfluous - immediately.'
In Africa, my heart broke to see little girls running ten kilometers to fetch a small pall of potable water instead of going to school. In Amazonia, intrigued by the children swarming around a cottage on stilts, I asked the master of the house how many children he had: 'I don't know any more,' he said. 'My wife knows, surelyl' One look from these youngsters is enough to stir rebellion: Let us stop this delayed-action genocide! Let us cease thinking only of ourselves and reasoning only in the short term. Let us assure for the children to come the same rights that have been declared for their parents.
 
We are living in an interminable succession of absurdities imposed by the myopic logic of short-term thinking.: the population big bang., the North-South divorce, the climatic changes of all sorts, the elimination of thousands of species, the new dictatorship of materialism. All these evils must be cured urgently, and the only medicine is a recourse to Utopia. In a remarkable speech at the Ateneo Veneto on April 6, 1990, Federico Mayor, Director General of UNESCO, said: 'Since the Renaissance, one has often ascertained that today's utopias. Are the realities of tomorrow .... Utopia is the necessity to get over and break the barriers of the established order.'
 
I wish that at this Rio Conference, heads of state and their delegates realize the urgency of drastic, unconventional decisions. You have an extraordinary opportunity to change the course of the world .... but only if you decide to challenge the
huge problems with radical solutions. The people of the world are anxiously awaiting a new light. This is our responsibility, as we hold in our hands the future of tomorrow's exacting generations.
 
 grimjacques.gif
Cousteau the bleak realist

Reprinted from Calypso Log for August 1992