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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Christopher Converts to Green Cause

There are not many silver linings to the disaster which has befallen the Middle Eastern peace process, but one of them may be the conversion of U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher to the environmental cause.

There can be no doubt about Christopher's dogged devotion to duty. His 17 trips to Damascus to cajole the taciturn Syrian President Hafez Assad toward a peace deal with Israel deserve some kind of international award for sheer perseverance.

But now, there will be no comprehensive Middle East peace deal. Since Christopher is expected to retire if Clinton wins a second term, he wanted a legacy. He may have begun to find one a month ago in his visit to Kiev, as he walked through the children's ward of a hospital that treats patients from Chernobyl. Before that, he had taken a tour of rural Haiti, and seen the bare hillsides where the forests had been cut down so that the topsoil was swept down river to the sea.

Before that, his talks in the Middle East had run time and time again into the problem of limited water supplies and soaring populations. His staff review of the prospects for the Central Asian republics ran repeatedly into what he called "Soviet irrigation policies that turned much of the Aral Sea into an ocean of sand."

"We must not forget the hard lessons of Rwanda, where depleted resources and swollen populations exacerbated the political and economic pressures that exploded into one of this decade's greatest tragedies," he declared last week, in a speech at Stanford University that could have been written by one of the European Green parties.

"In Russia, the fate of democracy may depend on its ability to offer the Russian people better living standards and to reverse a shocking decline in life expectancy," he went on. "Poorly stored nuclear waste poses a threat to human life for centuries to come -- one sixth of the Russian land mass remains so polluted that it is unfit even for industrial use."

Christopher has got the green religion, largely because the imperative of thinking environmentally has been thrust on him at every turn. "With 22 percent of the world's population, China has only 7 percent of its fresh water and crop land, 3 percent of its forests, and 2 percent of its oil. The combination of China's rapid economic growth and surging population is compounding the enormous environmental pressures it already faces," Christopher noted.

Some skepticism is in order. Al Gore used to speak like this, before the last election. Before we hail Christopher's conversion, we should wait to see if geopolitics are ever made subordinate to environmental interests.

But for once, all this may be more than rhetoric. Christopher has ordered the State Department to produce an annual report on Global Environmental Challenges, meant to echo the annual report on Human Rights. The main U.S. embassies in each global region are to establish Environmental Hubs, to press natural resource issues and sustainable development.

"We will raise these issues on every occasion where our diplomacy may be useful," Christopher promised. "We must meet the challenge of making global environmental issues a vital part of our foreign policy. For the sake of future generations, we must succeed."

We shall see.