Letter: History of environmental awareness

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Sir: Tom Burke is ingenuous in suggesting ("The earth now needs smarter friends", 6 May) that 25 years ago - in 1971 - "Public awareness ... about the environment was low. There were only a few tiny and largely ignored environmental organisations".

The Labour government had in 1967 set up the Countryside Commission, and in 1969 the (permanent) Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. The Department of the Environment was being set up, comprehensively to include Land Use Planning, Water and Air Pollution, Transport, and Countryside. The first Stockholm International Conference on the Environment was in preparation - it took place in 1972.

The International Parliamentary Conferences on the Environment were meeting regularly. The Commonwealth Human Environment Council had been running for more than 10 years.

As for what we have now, he is right to say that "Friends of the Earth did not accomplish all this on its own". But it should not have been "a never-ending source of wonder ... when I [Tom Burke] joined the Department of the Environment as 'a special adviser in 1991' ". In 1969 (Sir) Martin Holdgate became the scientific adviser to the Secretary of State (Tony Crosland), and chairman of the Department's Environmental Science Advisory Group, the immediate fruit of which was the Royal Commission.

The great point is that, as was first said (by a French thinker) in the 1960s, the world economy is a subset of the world environment.

Lord Wayland Kennet

House of Lords

London SW1