There is no doubt that an increasing disharmony between man and nature is apparent, especially in phenomena such as malnutrition, soil erosion, gross pollution, and the attrition of the aesthetic qualities of parts of the environment which have cross-cultural value. One of the major concerns is that the increasing magnitude of human resource processes is creating a set of environmental problems, which in turn may impair not only the usefulness of the environment, but also its life-supporting capability, its ability to absorb wastes and its beauty.

The environmental problems created by more people using more materials can be divided into those with an environmental linkage, and those with a largely social linkage with the quality of family life and economic opportunity. The former group in turn comprises a diversity of regional problems such as sewage, sulphur dioxide fallout, the habitat requirements of migratory birds, or particular geographical entities such as the world's major rivers and the uses made of them.

Much stronger anxiety, however, has been expressed about global problems such as food supply and the consequences of agricultural intensification, residual pesticides, the effects of the contamination of the oceans by oil, and the alteration of atmospheric processes by increased loads of carbon dioxide with a theoretical outcome of global warming.

The first of these is the argument that technological development will eventually provide solutions; the second, by contrast, advocates a radically different approach to the relations of man and nature. These two views have been endorsed by world leaders attending a series of environmental summits beginning in the 1970s. Strategies have been agreed where the solutions reside in applications of science to environmental management in the context of conservation as the practical response to a growing ecological conscience.

In the end, the greatest challenge will not be technological or even economic. As University of Maryland economist Herman Daly has written, a sustainable economy,
  • "would make fewer demands on our environmental resources, but much greater demands on our moral resources."

One of those demands will be to reorganize international institutions so that power is based not on who has the biggest GNP but on ahuman sense of fairness, balance—and what is ultimately needed to ensure a healthy future for humanity and the planet. This may seem like a big leap in the first few years of the new century. But as we begin to look back on the last century that began with women prohibited from voting in most countries, and with war viewed as the accepted means of settling differences among major powers, we should set a high standard for the decades ahead.