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Keeping an Eye on the World

April 24, 1988|Connie Koenenn

A thinning ozone layer can be a mighty consciousness-raiser. And while Lester Brown and his Worldwatch Institute researchers take no joy in saying, "We told you so," he acknowledged recently, speaking by phone from his Washington office, that "It is satisfying to see people begin to pay attention to these issues."

Brown's institute has been reporting on such large-scale trends of destruction as the loss of the ozone layer for five years now, and he sees increasing evidence that their aim--to raise the level of public awareness--is being met. Brown can point to several indicators. For one, sales of his Worldwatch Institute's "State of the World," have climbed steadily each year. "We started in 1984 with a total (domestic) printing of 27,000, and the number has grown every year," he said. "Each year is a complete rewrite. For the 1988 report, we hope to top 100,000.

"Perhaps even more interesting is the number of translations--Spanish, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Javanese, German, Polish, Russian for the first time this year." This is also the first year the book will be published in Italy, where environmental concern is cutting across the political spectrum, said the soft-spoken Brown, who was a noted agriculture analyst before founding the nonprofit organization. "The Green Party in Italy has asked me to tour major cities and talk about 'State of the World,' and last week a spokeswoman for a coalition of industrialists also wanted a tour.

"I think it is a matter there of going to the beach and not being able to swim, of watching those 2,000-year-old statues sort of melt before their eyes, of seeing toxics show up in their water supply. Italy is mountainous, and everything tends to wash down into rivers. It's kind of scary. They feel like things are closing in on them.

"I cite Italy as an example of what seems to be happening for the world, but not quite as rapidly. However, if you read the daily papers around the world, these issues are just in the news much more now than they were five years ago. I sense that a society that was worried is now becoming scared."

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