IDEAS

A high-powered utopia

ERNEST HILLEN June 20 1983
IDEAS

A high-powered utopia

ERNEST HILLEN June 20 1983

A high-powered utopia

IDEAS

It is an agenda that would warm the heart of any futurist and it calls for nothing less than an overhaul of government priorities in the wealthiest countries. The proponents, however, are not wild-eyed idealists but conservative Japanese policymakers. They argue that if the industrialized nations and oil-producing states would only sink $13 billion into a Global Infrastructure

Fund, man could make the deserts bloom, fresh water flow and solar power available to all. In contrast to most utopian visions, the ambitious scheme is sponsored by the Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Research Institute and was developed by a group that included two former Japanese cabinet ministers and the chairman of the Nippon Steel Corp.

The independent institute, which de-

veloped the plan in 1978, has identified 12 gigantic engineering projects, mainly in the Third World, that it says should be given international priority. The cost over 20 years would be a staggering $500 billion, paid for by the developed nations. The institute proposes that participating countries finance the scheme by trimming their defence budgets by two to three per cent a year. Projects aimed at improving trade, commerce and quality of life would include:

•A 105-mile-long canal across Malaysia’s Isthmus of Kra that would slice 1,490 miles off the sailing distance from the Far East to the Indian Ocean.

•An underwater tunnel joining Europe and Africa at Gibraltar.

•A New Silk Road—a superhighway linking Europe and China.

•A huge freshwater lake in parched central Africa produced by damming the Congo River.

•A second canal across Central America.

•Vast irrigation projects that would lead to the greening of the Sahara and Arabian deserts.

•A multitrillion-dollar equatorial solar energy facility that would produce the energy equivalent of 200 billion barrels of oil.

Despite the blue-chip nature of the fund’s promoters, however, the Mitsubishi Institute echoes the complaints of its cousins in less prestigious think tanks: lack of solid commitment from the world’s policymakers. To correct that problem the Institute’s former chairman, 77-year-old Masaki Nakajima, has spent the past three years in world capitals lobbying for the scheme. Last month he travelled to Washington in a vain attempt to have the fund placed on the agenda of the Williamsburg summit of leading industrialized nations. Nakajima told Maclean’s that he has already received expressions of support for the fund from Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, India’s Indira Gandhi and former UN secretary-general Kurt Waldheim.

However, encouraging words are one thing, financial commitment is quite another. Chairman of Canada Development Investment Corp. Maurice Strong cautions that “while these ideas are absolutely necessary, they are probably a generation ahead of the times and not yet politically mature.” Frank Davidson, a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an internationally recognized authority on macroengineering, agrees. So far, he notes, the fund’s promoters “have concentrated on how to spend the money.” He adds, “It’s time now to look hard at the financial and legal mechanism needed to get that money and pay it back.” in Toronto.

ERNEST HILLEN