Planet Of The Year: What on EARTH Are We Doing?

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Similar pollution closed beaches on the Mediterranean, the North Sea and the English Channel. Killer hurricanes ripped through the Caribbean and floods devastated Bangladesh, reminders of nature's raw power. In Soviet Armenia a monstrous earthquake killed some 55,000 people. That too was a natural disaster, but its high casualty count, owing largely to the construction of cheap high-rise apartment blocks over a well-known fault area, illustrated the carelessness that has become humanity's habit in dealing with nature.

There were other forebodings of environmental disaster. In the U.S. it was revealed that federal weapons-making plants had recklessly and secretly littered large areas with radioactive waste. The further depletion of the atmosphere's ozone layer, which helps block cancer-causing ultraviolet rays, testified to the continued overuse of atmosphere-destroying chlorofluorocarbons emanating from such sources as spray cans and air- conditioners. Perhaps most ominous of all, the destruction of the tropical forests, home to at least half the earth's plant and animal species, continued at a rate equal to one football field a second.

Most of these evils had been going on for a long time, and some of the worst disasters apparently had nothing to do with human behavior. Yet this year's bout of freakish weather and environmental horror stories seemed to act as a powerful catalyst for worldwide public opinion. Everyone suddenly sensed that this gyrating globe, this precious repository of all the life that we know of, ^ was in danger. No single individual, no event, no movement captured imaginations or dominated headlines more than the clump of rock and soil and water and air that is our common home. Thus in a rare but not unprecedented departure from its tradition of naming a Man of the Year, TIME has designated Endangered Earth as Planet of the Year for 1988.

To help focus its coverage, TIME invited 33 scientists, administrators and political leaders from ten countries to a three-day conference in Boulder in November. The group included experts in climate change, population, waste disposal and the preservation of species. In addition to explaining the complexities of these interlocking problems, the specialists advanced a wide range of practical ideas and suggestions that TIME has fashioned into an agenda for environmental action. That agenda, accompanied by stories on each of the major environmental problems, appears throughout the following pages.

What would happen if nothing were done about the earth's imperiled state? According to computer projections, the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere could drive up the planet's average temperature 3 degrees F to 9 degrees F by the middle of the next century. That could cause the oceans to rise by several feet, flooding coastal areas and ruining huge tracts of farmland through salinization. Changing weather patterns could make huge areas infertile or uninhabitable, touching off refugee movements unprecedented in history.

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