Noted Environmentalist Addresses Graduate Degree Candidates
By Elizabeth Omara-Otunnu, Office of University Communications
STORRS, Conn. -- The global economy must be restructured, if
economic progress is to continue, according to an internationally
Speaking during the University of Connecticut's graduate school
ceremonies at Storrs this afternoon, Lester R. Brown, founder and
chair of the board of the
Worldwatch Institute, a Washington-based non-profit research
institute devoted to the analysis of global environmental issues,
urged about 1,200 master's and
doctoral degree candidates "To work together to build a new
The economy Brown envisages would respect rather than destroy the
Brown, who is president of the newly established Earth Policy
Institute, said the world is today in need of a shift in world view
as radical as that of the 16th-century scholar, Copernicus, who
proposed the then "rather radical idea" that the earth revolves
around the sun.
"Most of us," he told the graduates and their families, "think the
environment is part of the economy. In reality, the economy is part
of the environment. Unless
we understand the need to make this shift, it is difficult to develop
an economy that's compatible with the earth's ecosystem."
Brown said deforestation, expanding deserts, soil erosion,
disappearing species and increased pollution are all "symptoms
of growing stress between the economy
and the ecosystem of which it is a part. "And he emphasized that
the problems are having a global effect that is unprecedented
in world history.
He said around the world, the demand for water is outrunning the
sustainable supply. Countries experiencing severe shortages are
diverting water from
agriculture to the cities and, as a result, have to import grain
from other nations. "Water shortages are going to be crossing
national boundaries in ways we have
not seen before," he said.
He also recalled that when a ship reached the North Pole last
year, it found not snow and ice but water. Had the early Arctic
explorers been trying to reach the
North Pole this year, he said, "they would have had to swim the
last few miles."
Melting ice is likely to have a significant impact on sea levels
around the world, he said. "We're looking at a future that is very
different from anything since
agriculture began," he added.
Brown advocated a new approach that would allow economic progress
to continue without destroying environmental support systems. This
would, for example, tap into wind power to generate electricity.
Once sufficient cheap electricity is produced, he said, it can be
used to produce hydrogen, the
fuel of choice for a new fuel cell economy.
This approach will enable the economy to make "The transition
from the fossil fuel age to the age of renewable energy," he said.
"We now have within sight,
within our lifetimes, the possibility of ending our overdependence
on Middle East oil," he said.
Brown said there are hidden costs in the use of fossil fuel,
such as the cost of providing health care to those whose health
is damaged by pollution. He advocated
restructuring the tax system by lowering the income tax and raising
taxes on environmentally destructive activities.
In order to achieve a new economy of the type he envisions, a
"major shift in thinking"is required, Brown said.
But, he suggested, it is well worth the effort. "The new economy is
exciting," he said. "It is about building something that can endure,
rather than an economy
that can eventually self-destruct."
During the ceremony, Brown received an honorary Doctor of Science
Among those receiving graduate degrees this year was a cohort of
54 Pharm.D. students, the first class to graduate from UConn's new,
degree program in pharmacy.
A number of the graduating students, as well as some of the
attending faculty who earned their doctorates from UConn, were
sporting new graduate gowns for
the first time. The gowns, distinctive academic regalia specific
to UConn, are of deep navy blue wool and velveteen, with an oak-leaf
symbol embroidered in gold
on each front panel. The gowns are complemented by navy blue caps,
and dark blue hoods edged in the color appropriate to the particular
Also during the ceremony, four UConn faculty were honored for
their research: Robin Cote, an assistant professor of physics;
Margaret Gilbert, a professor of
philosophy; Steven Suib, a professor of chemistry; and Peter
Turchin, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology.
May 2001 Releases