One of the key underlying principles of WorldChanging is the belief that the successful creation of a sustainable world for all of us requires moving forward, not looking backwards. Advances in science and technology are critical for our success; scientists are key players in the growing network of worldchangers. That's why it's so gratifying to see examples of scientists who get it, who understand the role they play in trying to change the world for the better.
On March 29th and 30th, scientists from around the world gathered at the Earth Institute at Columbia University for the State of the Planet 04 conference, subtitled "Mobilizing the Sciences to Fight Global Poverty." Speakers included Jeffrey Sachs, Edward O. Wilson, and Mary Robinson. Working sessions covered issues of energy, food, water, and health.
The site includes video and audio excerpts of speeches and sessions, and will soon have full transcripts, video, and added material in the archives. It also has a few select quotes from the different speakers. The selections from Edward O. Wilson stood out for me, in particular:
"John Sawhill, the late president of the Nature Conservancy and a friend of mine, once said, 'A society is defined not just by what it creates but by it refuses to destroy,' and that's true.
"Altogether, the 21st Century is destined to be called the 'Century of the Environment.' It will, I and many others believe, be seen as a time that either we put our house in order and settle down before we wreck the planet, or suffer the consequences.
"I believe we will settle down, because as Abba Eban said during the 1967 war, 'When all else fails men turn to reason.'
"Conversely, the natural environments where most of the biodiversity hangs on can not survive the press of land-hungry people who have nowhere else to go. This problem can be solved. Resources to do it exist. There are many reasons to achieve that goal, not least our own security.
"A world civilization able to envision God and the afterlife, to embark on the colonization of space, will surely find the way to save the integrity of this magnificent planet and the life it harbors because quite simply it's the right thing to do, and ennobling to our species.
"We will be judged far into the future, as far I think as any of us can imagine by what we now choose to save."
At the end of the event, the conferees released a statement calling for action, and emphasizing the role science has in ensuring a better future for everyone on the planet.
Both rich and poor countries must heed the lessons of science and foster the benefits of under-utilized and yet-to-be developed technologies. We must support increased national and international scientific and technological efforts to achieve technological breakthroughs in energy systems, food production, health care, and water management. Not only must we make a special effort to address the technological needs of the poorest, as these are often neglected, but also to build and sustain scientific capacity in the poorest countries.
The statement in full is powerful and detailed, and well-worth reading, and includes specific recommendations in each of the four broad areas (energy, food, water, and health) covered by the conference. I strongly encourage you to take a look at it.
I'd like to think Richard Feynman would have liked to have been part of such things; he had a penchant for this sort of work.
Detailed? It seemed a bit heavy with generalities to me - but still a good statement.