Is Issued Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Global 2000 Report forecast catastrophic problems for the world in the near future if trends in population growth, natural resources depletion, energy usage, and environmental devastation were not halted.

Summary of Event

In his environmental message to Congress on May 23, 1977, President Jimmy Carter discussed the urgent need for international efforts to protect the world’s environment. He also directed the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the Department of State to undertake a one-year study of “probable changes in the world’s population, natural resources, and environment through the end of the century” to provide a foundation for long-term government planning with regard to these issues. Global 2000 Report to the President, The (Council on Environmental Quality)[Global Two Thousand Report] Environmental policy, U.S. Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. [kw]Global 2000 Report Is Issued, The (July 24, 1980) Global 2000 Report to the President, The (Council on Environmental Quality)[Global Two Thousand Report] Environmental policy, U.S. Council on Environmental Quality, U.S. [g]North America;July 24, 1980: The Global 2000 Report Is Issued[04260] [g]United States;July 24, 1980: The Global 2000 Report Is Issued[04260] [c]Publishing and journalism;July 24, 1980: The Global 2000 Report Is Issued[04260] [c]Environmental issues;July 24, 1980: The Global 2000 Report Is Issued[04260] [c]Natural resources;July 24, 1980: The Global 2000 Report Is Issued[04260] Carter, Jimmy [p]Carter, Jimmy;environmental policy Speth, James Gustavus Barney, Gerald O.

The roots of this study lie in seventy years of federal government concern about trends in population, resources, and the environment. Various federal commissions and planning boards, including the President’s Research Committee on Social Trends (1929), the National Resources Planning Board (1939), the President’s Materials Policy Commission (1951), the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (1958), and the Public Land Law Review Commission (1965), had previously examined these issues. Pressure from the environmental movement in the early 1960’s and growing public concern about the nation’s pollution and disposal problems prodded Congress to pass numerous environmental laws in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Most notably, the National Environmental Policy Act National Environmental Policy Act (1969) of 1969, which mandated the creation of a three-member Council on Environmental Quality within the executive office of the president, assigned to the CEQ the task of developing national policies to improve the conservation, social, economic, and health needs of the nation.

A number of other developments in the years from 1970 to 1976 contributed to the decision to conduct the Global 2000 study. In March, 1970, Congress created the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, U.S. After two years of investigation, the commission, chaired by John D. Rockefeller III, issued a controversial report and seven volumes of research papers. Among its sixty recommendations was the proposal that national planning be undertaken to stabilize U.S. population. During the presidential administrations of Richard M. Nixon Nixon, Richard M. and Gerald R. Ford, Ford, Gerald R. additional commissions examined U.S. material resources, urban growth policies, and the relationship between national growth and social goals.

Meanwhile, several initiatives conducted in the private sector also helped to prompt and shape the Global 2000 study. In 1972, the Club of Rome Club of Rome issued its pessimistic report titled The Limits to Growth, Limits to Growth, The (Meadows et al.) based on computer projections, which provoked heated debate about population control, resource depletion, environmental devastation, and economic development. In 1977, the Workshop on Alternative Energy Strategies, Workshop on Alternative Energy Strategies a coalition of government and business leaders from fifteen countries, issued Energy: Global Prospects, 1985-2000, the first assessment of energy resources for the entire noncommunist world. Other studies published during the 1970’s by the United Nations, Lester Brown’s Worldwatch Institute, and the World Bank warned that the world’s population was spiraling out of control and causing permanent damage to the ecosystem. A series of conferences sponsored by the United Nations during the 1970’s also influenced the decision to undertake the Global 2000 study.

While finding value in earlier federal government studies, the directors of The Global 2000 Report to the President, known as the GTR, complained that earlier studies had analyzed environmental issues in isolation from one another, had considered only the United States and the short-term future, and had done little to change public policy. The GTR, by contrast, sought to examine the interrelationships among population, resources, and environment from a long-term global perspective and to help to redirect American thinking about how to best deal with these issues.

In July, 1980, after three years of study and one million dollars of expense, the CEQ and the Department of State, with the assistance of eleven other federal agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture, Energy, and the Interior, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Office of Science and Technology Policy, issued a report of more than eight hundred pages, which was divided into three sections: the Summary Report, the Technical Report, and the Government’s Global Model. Because the study sought to strengthen the government’s own analytic capabilities, it was conducted primarily by government personnel using their own projection tools. More than one hundred outside experts from academic institutions, business, labor, foundations, and public interest groups helped the study staff synthesize their projections and also read and criticized the report before the publication.

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Because The Global 2000 Report analyzed only one policy option what conditions were likely to develop if no changes in national policies regarding population growth, resource conservation, and environmental projection or in rates of technological advances occurred it offered projections, not policy recommendations.“If present trends continue,” the GTR stated, “the world in the year 2000 will be more crowded, more polluted, less stable ecologically, and more vulnerable to disruption than the world we live in now.” Its principal findings, widely reported in the print media, projected a world population of 6.35 billion in 2000, a widening gap in per-capita gross national product between rich and poor nations, and a possible decline in per-capita food consumption in South Asia and the less-developed African nations. It also forecast only a 4 percent increase in the amount of arable land by the year 2000, significant deforestation, desertification, and erosion, a bleak outlook for the 25 percent of the world dependent on wood as their primary fuel, severe regional water shortages, and dramatic increases in plant and animal extinction. Moreover, the GTR warned, dangerous concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the depletion of the ozone layer, and increasing amounts of acid rain and radioactive and other hazardous materials threatened to alter the world climate by 2050 and posed health and safety risks to humanity.

Significance

Compared with The Limits to Growth, which predicted widespread starvation, political chaos, and social disintegration by 2050, The Global 2000 Report was cautious and restrained. Moreover, the report repeatedly asserted that prompt and fundamental changes in public policy by the world’s nations could prevent many problems from becoming unmanageable. Nevertheless, the mass media labeled its findings as “stark,” “bleak,” “doom and gloom,” “grim,” and “catastrophic.” At the same time the GTR was issued, Carter announced the appointment of the Presidential Task Force on Global Resources and the Environment, to be chaired by James Gustavus Speth. Its charge was to ensure that global problems received a high priority in the Carter administration, to assess the effectiveness of the nation’s present and prospective policies for dealing with global problems, to improve the federal government’s ability to project and analyze long-term trends in population, resources, and the environment, and to recommend specific actions the United States should undertake to help solve world problems in these areas. Carter also stated that he and members of the Department of State would raise the issues identified in the GTR at all appropriate international meetings and directed that the study be distributed to all foreign embassies in Washington, D.C.

In January, 1981, the task force issued a 255-page report titled Global Future: Time to Act. Its more than 165 recommendations included devising regulations that would control the exportation of hazardous wastes, double the amount spent on international family planning, strengthen international efforts to prevent the destruction of cropland and tropical forests, conserve endangered species, allocate contested freshwater supplies, limit the burning of fossil fuels, and develop renewable energy sources. Because of both moral duty and self-interest, the United States, the report insisted, must lead other rich nations in helping poor countries break the cycle of hunger, misery, and resource depletion by promoting sustainable economic development. Its authors also urged the United States to centralize authority in a single government agency to coordinate national strategy on global resources, environment, and population and called for the establishment of a hybrid public-private institute to supplement the government’s efforts.

In January, 1981, more than fifty organizations, led by the National Audubon Society, sponsored a Leadership Conference on Population, Resources, and Environment in Washington, D.C., to discuss ways to remedy these problems. Meanwhile, about twenty groups, including Zero Population Growth, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the National Wildlife Federation, formed a Global 2000 Citizens’ Committee to increase their clout and to publish a report for the president-elect, Ronald Reagan, affirming the validity of The Global 2000 Report’s bleak projections, analyzing the most pressing problems, and offering ways to solve them. The Global Tomorrow Coalition, Global Tomorrow Coalition founded the same year, worked to educate the public about population growth, resource consumption, environmental deterioration, and sustainable development through sponsoring forums, maintaining a speakers’ bureau, publishing a quarterly newsletter, and creating curricula for elementary and secondary schools and colleges. In 1985, Gerald O. Barney, the study director for the GTR, launched the Institute for Twenty-First Century Studies (later renamed the Millennium Institute) as an independent educational organization to assist the world’s nations in devising strategies for “sustainable development and security.” The institute has helped train teams in numerous countries to conduct studies to explore these issues.

Translated into French, Spanish, German, Japanese, and other languages, the GTR was both profusely praised and sharply criticized around the world. The report itself included an appendix of criticisms made by its informal advisers. These outside experts complained that the study was based to a large extent on extrapolations from trends and relationships derived from only two or three decades preceding 1977, and that most of the study’s projections did not go beyond the year 2000. In addition, the study’s failure to consider the effects of potential natural disasters, significant technological problems or advances, major wars, or widespread social disorder was unrealistic and produced an overly sanguine view of the future. The study also slighted the fact that national policies were likely to be redesigned in response to changing circumstances. Moreover, these advisers protested, the study contained hidden premises, missing variables, and inadequate data and methodologies that could make its projections faulty.

The most vocal critic of the report was economist Julian Simon. Simon, Julian In a 1981 article published in The Public Interest titled “Global Confusion, 1980,” he charged that the report was produced by environmental doomsayers who used dubious analytic tools and relied on careless research. Instead of supporting the GTR’s projections, he insisted, the facts about population, energy, natural resources, pollution, food, and tillable land pointed in the opposite direction. Similar critiques appeared in the spring of 1981 in Resources (“Entering the Twenty-First Century”), The Wall Street Journal (“Half Truths About the Future”), and Policy Review (“Globaloney 2000”). D. Gale Johnson, Johnson, D. Gale a leading authority on agricultural economics, expressed a common fear that the report’s bleak projections would be self-fulfilling. Zoologist Kenneth Watt Watt, Kenneth lamented that the study was “a masterful, detailed” analysis of why the U.S. government was “incapable of making realistic projections” or planning for the future.

Supporters of the report, although acknowledging that it contained flaws, urged Americans to take its larger warnings seriously. While lauding the study, seventeen environmental organizations expressed concern that its vision of the future might be too optimistic. Robert McNamara, McNamara, Robert president of the World Bank, declared that the report painted “an absolutely shocking picture” of what the world would become in twenty years if people did not act immediately to address its problems.

Speth argued that the GTR should be viewed as a companion document to the World Conservation Strategy, World Conservation Strategy announced in early 1980 and endorsed by the United Nations and other major international organizations, which sought to connect conservation and economic development. The report, he emphasized, was the first official acknowledgement by the U.S. government that the world would be in serious jeopardy by the end of the century if present behaviors continued, and that problems could be more effectively combated if federal agencies and departments worked together. Nevertheless, in the ensuing years, despite the efforts of the Global Tomorrow Coalition, the Millennium Institute, and other concerned organizations and individuals, both U.S. political policy makers and the general public largely ignored the GTR’s stark projections.

As the year 2000 came and went, the GTR predictions could be evaluated. Total global population in 2000 was less than 6.07 billion, instead of the 6.35 billion predicted by the GTR, and fertility rates were rapidly declining throughout the world. Gaps between rich and poor countries remained in 2000, but nearly a billion people once under direct threat of starvation lived in countries that had attained much greater food stability, especially in Asia. Per-capita gross domestic product had improved in many developing countries, under the influence of growing wealth and productivity associated with the globalization of the international economy. Environmental outcomes were mixed, with many areas enjoying cleaner water and air, even as others, such as China, deteriorated owing to increased industrial activity. Ozone depletion, instead of being worse, had been halted. On the other hand, greenhouse gas production had increased. Thus, while many of the gloomier predictions of the GTR failed to materialize, others were partially validated, and the health of the environment remains a major international concern. Global 2000 Report to the President, The (Council on Environmental Quality)[Global Two Thousand Report] Environmental policy, U.S. Council on Environmental Quality, U.S.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barney, Gerald. Global 2000 Revisited: What Shall We Do? Arlington, Va.: Millennium Institute, 1993. An attempt to update the conclusions of the GTR by its former study director. Analyzes the relationships among four critical issues: threats to the global environment; sexual, racial, religious, and nationalistic divisions in the human community; extremes of affluence and poverty; and widespread violence and exploitation.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barney, Gerald, et al. Global 2000: Implications for Canada. Toronto: Pergamon Press, 1981. A report to the Canadian government by experts involved with the GTR. Argues that, because of its abundant natural resources and small population, Canada faces a relatively bright future. Nevertheless, growing pressure to supply more food, energy, forest products, and minerals to the rest of the world will greatly increase the stress on Canada’s land, air, and water resources.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blatt, Harvey. America’s Environmental Report Card: Are We Making the Grade? Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2006. A well-researched, fact-filled work that breaks down the pressing environmental issues into their components and offers solutions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carter, Luther. “Gus Speth: Planning the ’Conserver Society.’” Science 208 (May 30, 1980): 1009-1012. Discusses Speth’s work with the CEQ and his views about how to conserve resources and energy and protect the environment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ellsaesser, Hugh W., ed. Global 2000 Revisited: Mankind’s Impact on Spaceship Earth. New York: Paragon House, 1991. Collection of scholarly essays repudiates the scarcity perspective of the GTR. Contributors argue that the overall physical condition of the world is improving (less pollution, more food and resources per person, greater life expectancy), and that people therefore will not have to sacrifice their freedom or their standard of living to avoid destroying their habitat.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Simon, Julian. “Global Confusion, 1980: A Hard Look at The Global 2000 Report.” The Public Interest 62 (Winter, 1981): 3-20. Argues that the GTR’s projections are based on inappropriate models, lack historical perspective, represent organizational self-interest, and express the views of environmental pessimists. Asserts that the facts about pollution, energy, minerals, food, forests, population, and arable land point instead in an optimistic direction.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. The Ultimate Resource 2. Rev. ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1996. Highly critical of the perspective of the GTR and other gloomy projections about population growth, resources depletion, and environmental devastation. Contends that the world’s supply of natural resources will progressively become less scarce and less costly. Lauds the world’s growing population as a benefit that will lead to greater ingenuity and larger markets.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Simon, Julian L., and Herman Kahn, eds. The Resourceful Earth: A Response to Global 2000. New York: Basil Blackwell, 1984. Insists that the GTR is wrong in its general conclusions and in many of its specific assertions. Argues that Earth’s resources are plentiful.

Commoner Publishes The Closing Circle

Club of Rome Issues The Limits to Growth

Ward and Dubos Publish Only One Earth

United Nations Holds an Environmental Conference in Stockholm

Schumacher Publishes Small Is Beautiful

Heilbroner Predicts Growth Limits

Our Common Future Is Published

Global ReLeaf Program Is Initiated

United Nations Creates a Panel to Study Climate Change

Earth Summit Convenes in Rio de Janeiro

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