From a speech by Russell W. Peterson, former president of the National Audubon Society, to the Environmental Law Institute in Washington Dec. 5:

Here, then, are the three basic causes of environmental degradation: growth in population, growth in average consumption per person and growth in environmentally deleterious technology. It is the product of these three variables that constitutes a comprehensive indicator of the growing threat to the environment.

We must ask ourselves the question, "What good would come from continuing explosive growth in the production of goods and services and wondrous technology, if the fallout from such activities destroyed our life support system?"

We must work to lower all three of these impacts -- first, stabilize population; second, reduce average consumption per person by recycling, re-using, recovering and preventing waste; and third, develop and select more environmentally benign technology such as soft energy.

The facts that population is almost certain to at least double before it can be stabilized, that half of the people already on Earth desperately need more resources, and that the world leadership is only feebly supporting the development of more benign technology already known -- makes the prognosis for sustaining a decent quality of life on Earth disturbing indeed.

Although the forces of the marketplace will help to ameliorate some of these impacts, they will not by themselves, as some leaders contend, solve this global predicament. Its solution also calls for government action at the local, state, national and international levels. It calls for policies that are concerned with the rights of future generations and informed by long-term historical trends. It calls for individuals everywhere to invest something of themselves in furthering environmental action. Each of us can make a difference.