About Sigma Xi Programs Meetings Member Services Chapters Giving Affiliates Resources American Scientist
   Annual Meeting &
   International Research
   Conference


Meetings » Archive » Past Forums » 2000 »
Intergenerational Ethics

Intergenerational Ethics

Panel
A Look at Nature's Numbers
John H. Gibbons, Senior Fellow
National Academy of Engineering

Intergenerational Ethics in the Knowledge Age
Thomas Malone, Former Foreign Secretary
National Academy of Sciences

A Look at Nature's Numbers
by: John Gibbons
National Academy of Engineering

To start off, I'd like to draw a couple of verbal images. "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die." That's from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. Now, here's one I heard during the Reagan administration when I asked a person about some future issues, and he said, "Why should I worry about the future? What's the future done for me?" Sort of a modern Rubaiyat, I guess.

Another image is the true story of some Russian scientists who were in charge of a seed collection in an institute in St. Petersburg during World War II. St. Petersburg, as you know, was under an extraordinary siege. People were starving everywhere. They even tore up the floorboards of the local mill in order to try to get some of the flour from between the floorboards so they could eat. But these were custodians of a rather extensive seed collection from all the genomes across Russia. They guarded those seeds with their lives. In fact, several of them starved to death. But they saved the seeds, which survived the war and are part of the precious heritage of Russia today. That gives a little different feeling about why should we care about tomorrow.

We live in an age of discount rates. I think we all pretty much know how to calculate the net present value of future things. We depreciate buildings and other things that decay and in a sense go to zero value at some point, but we also seem to be willing to use some of those same principles for evaluations of things like biological species for which it's very difficult to conceptualize how you can depreciate them to zero over a period of time. We live in a time in which a typical corporate manager has to worry about, not next year's profit, but next quarter's! So we operate in a time of extraordinarily high discount rates in terms of the present value of future conditions.

Here's another vignette. When archeologists excavated in Russell Cave, Alabama, and found some of the earliest artifacts of human presence in North America, they purposefully left untouched a major portion of that cave in which surely lie some very important artifacts. They left it alone for future generations because they knew that technology would likely advance over the years and that a much better excavation could be done 50 or 100 years down the road. A different kind of sense of discount rates and preparation for the future.

We have, within the last 10 or 20 years, begun to think very seriously about such things as natural capital. There's a recent Academy publication called Nature's Numbers (authored by some distinguished economists) in which we're now beginning to wrestle with the fact that there are goods and services in our economy, the value of which have never been incorporated into our national economic accounts (our way of accounting goods and services delivered to people). These are so-called "natural capital" accounts, such as the natural environment that cleans water, that provides fertilization of crops, all the other so-called services provided by natural ecosystems. We're now in the process of trying to figure out how we can link them into our economic reporting rather than leaving them outside the systems of national accounts,. Even rough measures tell us that a very substantial portion of our wealth comes from outside our economic system as traditionally calculated.

So we're in the middle of a very interesting transition of realizing the sources of wealth and our responsibilities to the future for not destroying that wealth without at least putting something in place of it. It has been brought to the forefront by a man/biosphere crisis that has emerged in the 20th century as a result of rapid population growth and rapid industrialization, and it is on a collision course in the 21st century. There are clear mandates, it seems to me, for us to understand this business and think again about what the stewardship responsibilities are for humans.

These issues are presently being ignored by the public in general, by business, by politicians—where political lifetimes are very short. You know, when a congressman gets elected, he must immediately start campaigning for the next election. President Clinton told me once when we were working on a climate protection protocol, and I argued for a 20- to 30-year time horizon, "You're absolutely right about the need for a long time horizon, but no number greater than 10 years has any consequence in politics. The discount rate wipes you out."

Let me talk just for a few minutes about things that exemplify the dynamics of stress on the biosphere, all of which relate to science and technology and all of which have the common property of moving slowly but very ponderously, and which require us to think ahead or otherwise we're too late. …A demographic profile of the United States: male, female, age groups and numbers of people, is more or less a rectangle. There's a bulge due to baby boomers, but we're on almost a stable rectangle of population distribution by age in our country. That's typical of a mature industrial society, which is about 5 percent of the world's population. The same demographic profile for Mexico shows an enormous number of very young people in the society. It sort of looks like the U.S. a century ago.

Now, the good news here is, if you have a profile like Mexico and you wonder who is going to take care of you in your old age, you can be pretty sure that some of your children can take care of you. At the same time, when you look at the enormous bulge of youth, these people are going to move into the labor market, and there's an enormous requirement, then, to provide for an economy that can support such a population. A 3 percent growth rate in our economy seems to be a small number these days, doesn't it? But what does a 3 percent growth mean in population? How soon does population double if it's growing at 3 percent? The number is about 23 years. And when you begin to go through a few doubling times, you understand the consequence of that kind of rapid growth.

Human demographic profiles only change very slowly. If we suddenly went to balanced birth rates and death rates in a given country, it would take 70 years for population to equilibrate because there's so much momentum in the system. Example, Africa. Three scenarios: 1980 to about 2100. The two scenarios are that the birth rate decreases from its present high number down to replacement level in either 25 years from now or about 55 years from now. I think that's the number. In other words, a delay of the decrease of birth rates down to replacement level of not 30 years, but up to about 60 years means a difference in the ultimate population of that part of the world of between about 1 billion people and about 4 billion people. In demographics delay can be devastating.

For people who are not familiar with numbers, these statistics don't carry much weight. I think Lord Bertrand Russell once said, "Mankind would rather commit suicide than learn arithmetic." And it seems to me our research community must not only know arithmetic, but also try to get it across to other people. If you take these differential numbers and go to the integral, namely world population, you get a figure like this. The dynamics are such that it's just in the 20th and 21st centuries that we kind of have a moment of truth.

What happens as we go from the year 2000 to, say, the year 2100 is that almost all the population growth, about 90 percent, is going to occur in the Third World. One of the many requirements of managing such a population growth is that each and every year we will have to build the equivalent of about eight cities of 10 million people each to accommodate the increased numbers of people, all of them in the Third World. So the implications of these long-term events, which happen so slowly in terms of most of our thinking that it just doesn't seem to matter—the implications are extraordinary. And, again, that's why I call the 21st century a century-long moment of truth.

I'm going to go to my second example. I think you have all seen this in one form or another, but long-term trends in carbon dioxide and average global temperature over the last 150,000 years show very similar downturns in both CO2 concentration and average temperature until the end of the Pleistocene period, about 20,000 years ago. At the end of the Pleistocene, there's a sudden, erratic rise in temperature and CO2. And, now, after nearly 20 millennia of stable levels of carbon dioxide, which is the most important of the greenhouse gasses, we are moving to levels of carbon dioxide that are above levels seen in the past half million years. What's more, the momentum carries us on toward a domain that the world has never seen before. Concerned? Why should I worry about tomorrow? It does give someone pause if you are sensitive to numbers.

If we look at that projection in a shorter time frame, that is over the past century we see, again, carbon dioxide global and global average temperature riding along in an erratic out rising pattern. Weather is inherently a variable phenomenon. But as we project toward the future using various scenarios of how we use energy, we find a plausible range of CO2 concentration over the next 50 or 100 years here and a plausible range of temperature response like this.

Uncertainties about future climate are due to the uncertainty about how the models work, how well we understand the net result of changes in the atmosphere. The best we can do at this point is something like this: If we don't do anything, our carbon emissions to the atmosphere will probably rise in nearly exponential form.

Let's just talk about the next century, the year 2100. If we come to a conclusion that, for humanity's sake, in the long term we will be in big trouble if we more than double the pre-industrial CO2 concentration in the atmosphere and we want to hold the concentration to that level in the long term but we want to get there in a way that doesn't break us in terms of the economy, then we have to choose a so-called "least cost" strategy to get there. To do that, we have to begin early in the 21st century to depart significantly from our recent trajectory, and ultimately, within perhaps 30, 40 years, 50 years, begin to decrease absolute quantities of carbon emitted per year around the globe.

The bottom line for the U.S. is, because we are one of the major contributors to this business, and at the same time are wealthy and technologically sophisticated, that we need to move our energy system from a carbon intensive fuel to a different system that, if it uses fossil fuels, somehow sequesters carbon, or we have to move to other energy systems that don't release carbon. We have only decades, perhaps a hundred years, to effect that transition. If you want to end up with about 550 parts per million CO2, which is twice the pre-industrial age concentration, you have to follow a trajectory like this if you want to do it in a reasonable way.

Looking at history, we've been there before. This is the sequence of energy systems that we've seen ever since the middle 1800s. The cycles are about 50 years apart. They're about a hundred years full width at half maximum. We're pretty beyond the age of coal donimance; although, it's still significant. We peaked out in U.S. oil production well over a decade ago. Gas is still on the upswing. And what will be the next major source ? There has to be a succession; and what would the succession be? We're not sure yet, but it's a challenge to our community in this part of this century to devise a diverse energy system because energy drives the world. And, again, it takes time to do it.

In fact, intentional or not, we've been reducing carbon emissions from energy for a long time. We've worked from wood to coal to oil. This is a semilog plot of the ratio of hydrogen to carbon per unit of energy, and we've moved on up to oil. We're on our way to a methane economy, and we might be able to get there by 2030 or so, within the lifetime of some of us. But at that point in time, we have to do better than methane. We have to move to hydrogen-to-carbon ratios that carry us into another domain. It's going to require very innovative science to take us to the so-called hydrogen economy. That's a wonderful challenge, but it certainly is a challenge.

Let me touch on a few more numbers: global nitrogen fixation. Even up to 1960, anthropogenic fixation of nitrogen, that is from fertilizer production and combustion, was perhaps a third or less of the global amount of nitrogen fixing from natural sources such as lightning storms and other things that happen, microbes. In that short 40 years, we've gone from being a minor producer of the total to the dominant player of the total global nitrogen fixation. Result: we now have hypoxic zones not only in the Black Sea, but in the Gulf of Mexico. We have air pollution problems. We have many ill effects related to nitrogen fixation, and there is no sign of that domination turning around. We don't even have a clear notion about what it really means for global ecosystem stabilities.

There are good ideas about how we might go to a much less intensive use of nitrogen fertilizers, but it all comes back home to the science community to have a sense of what is happening and, therefore, an ability to think ahead and create the capabilities to do something about it.

Finally, a time series plot of species extinctions from the 17th century to about 1960 shows that the absolute numbers are relatively small, but extinction is following a very rapid exponential increase. It's getting more and more worrisome that species extinction is going on at a rate that, over a period of several hundred years, will be fully equivalent to, if not greater than, the impact of the asteroid collision 65 million years ago in terms of the impact on global species' survivability. In other words, humanity constitutes a "human bolide" or asteroid colliding with the earth's biosphere over perhaps a couple of centuries, that's equivalent to one of those asteroids in terms of species devastation.

Now, to tease your imagination a little bit, let me say a word or two about what's happening in terms of the so-called dematerialization of our economies. The old idea is we select raw materials and transform them into final products, which finally go to discarded waste. The newer ideas that are taking shape now are to move toward closed systems in our "green" design of products so that, at the end, the materials have valuable follow-on uses, and there is very little net flow of materials. It's a great challenge to the engineering community to think about choice of materials, not just so much in terms of what will make a good product, but what also will enable the whole system to operate in a nearly closed condition. I would also say that it's an ethical imperative for our community to take into consideration.

We are just now coming to grips with the notion of moving from a world in which human activities were once washed out on the sands of the environment—to the point it's now a permanent footprint. There's almost no "natural" world left. It is a human dominated biosphere, and the way we're moving gives me great cause for concern about consequences even 100 years in the future, which is but a moment in human history.

So, if you think back on it, we have lived for generations with several paradigms that may have been okay sometime back but are now anachronistic. One paradigm is: "The exponential is our friend; we can float our way up and out of these problems." Herb Stein, the noted economist, once observed, "That which cannot go on forever must at some point come to an end." Departing from the exponential is easier said than done.

So, comes the argument, for instance, of alternative growth models, which enable you to produce more goods with less externalities over time, but soon the exponential catches up with you. An alternative idea is to move towards an S type curve, which ultimately happens whether it's in a petri dish or on the planet, to move toward some kind of dynamic equilibrium. The evidence shows there is some response to this dilemma. It's not all "woe is me." We are beginning slowdown in population growth; although, you can hardly notice it yet. We have energy-to-GNP ratios that are falling. In the U.S., it has fallen by some 40 percent over the last 40 years in the face of continued economic growth. And, in fact, most of that gain in energy efficiency has turned out to be profitable at the bottom line. We have, with the stratospheric ozone, an international agreement and treaty and protocol. We've devised technological ways to fix that problem, and within about 50 years or less we'll begin to see stratospheric ozone return toward normal.

We have visions of global climate change mitigation in the International Panel on Climate Change, with more than 100 countries agreeing scientifically on the effects and maybe what one can do about it, what the implications are. We're protecting more and more natural areas and historic sites. We do have rising concerns for the long term. We have, for instance, people like John Ahearne, who have spent a lot of time worrying about the next 10,000 years with regard to management and development of high-level radioactive waste. Why would someone worry about 10,000 years? There hopefully will be people then, and we need to think about those people. I only wish we also thought about them in terms of 200 years ahead in regard to other things we're doing.

Ken Bowling—I believe he was a member of Sigma Xi—used to call our economy the Cowboy Economy because the idea is that if you have a problem, you simply pick up and move west. The problem is we've run into the Pacific Ocean. We now have people who are saying to rely on God to intervene and bail us out. Francisco Ayala was talking about that earlier this morning. We have severe resistance to the notion of limits and restraints. The notion that somehow man is set apart from the rest of creation and all the rest of creation is simply meant to pleasure us is coming apart because dualism leads you to the notion that, the more people we have, the more we're fulfilled, and if we overcrowd the earth, we will simply expand to some other planet. Crazy notions, I know, but they still influence a lot of people.

There's also resistance to technological innovation in molecular biology and the use of recombinant DNA to devise ways to enhance our capability for improvement of crop species and the like. That resistance is, in part, due to the fact that the public doesn't trust our community in those areas. It's getting too close to home. There is resistance to nuclear power because of radioactivity, however small, by a lot of people that don't understand that they already have a lot of radioactivity in their bodies, mostly is due to K40, which was around when the earth was formed.

So there are a lot of things going on, and, again, our community has a primary opportunity and, therefore, a responsibility to help set the numbers right, to help raise people's awareness of what our options are and what our options could be. So the sine qua non is, when we figure where do we go from here, it's knowledge. A knowledge century, it seems to me, is in the cards, and the science and technology, engineering and mathematics community bears an extraordinary, inordinate amount of the responsibility here because it's our profession that provides the tools, first, to have the ability to foresee, to monitor, to sense, to analyze, to model, to understand earth's systems and understand population dynamics.

There's a Chinese proverb that says, "If we do not change our direction, we're very likely to end up where we're headed." If you can develop the ability to foresee, to understand trends and monitor where we are, then we have a better capability to understand how and when to act. So to foresee is one of our commandments. A second is to forestall degradation; to devise ways to mitigate the results of human activities; to devise ways to adapt to change that's inevitably upon us; to move toward a dematerialization of the industrial system while still providing goods and services.

Albert Schweitzer, just before he died, said, "Mankind has lost its ability to foresee and therefore to forestall. He will end up destroying the earth." That's a pretty tough statement from one of the great optimists and scholars of the world, but to foresee and also to forestall are two of the keys for us. Third is an ability to restore. If we are smart enough to understand where something is and where it's going, we need to make an investment in it. I think our present wrestling with restoring the Everglades is a good example where we made some mistakes, and we're backing up and spending a lot time in south Florida to enable people in Florida to have fresh water and other amenities. And finally, to help nourish, help provide wealth that goes beyond creature comforts, things that are uniquely human. Rene DuBois once said, "Mankind has unique needs for such things as quietness, open space, solitude, natural places to be." These are uniquely needs of human beings.

What we need is research and education. It's a burden. It's also an opportunity. Mainly, and if not predominantly, that burden and opportunity is on the science, engineering and technology community, not just for today's needs but to enable the future to unfold in a way that we would like to see it happen. Saint-Exupéry once said, "Your task is not so much to predict the future, but to enable it." That requires understanding where we're headed and anticipating that process.

I invited Donella Meadows to join us for this forum today. She said, "That sounds very interesting. I'd like to come. Where is it?" I said, "Well, it's out in Albuquerque." She thought for a moment, and she said, "I can't do it. The required travel would exceed my personal carbon budget." She's committed herself at the personal level regarding net carbon production and how it's used. I told her we'd miss her, but we understood and were proud of her.

There was a man named Harry Caudill, an extraordinary Kentucky lawyer, politician and philosopher, who wrote a book called Night Comes to the Cumberlands. He described the devastation caused by deforesting the hills of Kentucky and taking the coal out of the ground and the impact of technology when large machines came in and what used to be a mule and a skid and a man with a shovel transformed into giant drag lines and massive machinery. And he lamented this, but he said this resource extraction is bringing wealth to Kentucky; although, he said, most of it is flowing to Philadelphia where people own the companies. But he pleaded, in turn, that as we deplete these resources, we need to supplement them with other resources. His suggestion was separation fees which would go into education and mandatory restoration of the disturbed lands. A substitution, in other words, of something else for the things we take away in our generation. I think that's the bottom line for us in our generation, and I think that's why this is an ethical imperative to our community.

Intergenerational Ethics in the Knowledge Age
by: Thomas Malone
Former Foreign Secretary, National Academy of Sciences

As my contribution to this interesting topic, I would like to touch briefly on four items. First, the broad context into which intergenerational equity falls, that is, the grand challenge to society on the threshold of the 21st century. This challenge involves the primary forces that drive human development while simultaneously threatening environmental sustainability and economic equability. Second, a closer look at the equability issue itself. Third, an emerging hypothesis on the transformation of society under way towards a knowledge-driven economy. Fourth, a proposal to test that hypothesis.

The central challenge of this century is to achieve reconciliation between exponential and asymmetrical growth in human activity on planet earth and the fixed resources of land, air, water, plant and animal life in the world's ecosystems that support that expansion. This challenge involves developing an understanding of the complex interaction between the global human system and the array of natural systems that support human activity. This reconciliation is the grand challenge. The facts are simple: during the 20th century, the population of the world multiplied four times and the average capacity of each individual to generate goods and services from these natural resources increased three-and-a-half times. The global economy, then, grew 14 times — to about $28 trillion.

The world economy is likely to grow another four to five times during the next 50 years (annual rate of three per cent). This growth would be the result of, say, a 50 percent increase in the number of people and a three-fold increase in the average economic productivity of individuals. Another four- to five-fold growth from the present $28 trillion world economy would probably be devastating to the global ecosystems that are already in trouble, according to the recently completed Pilot Assessment of Global Ecosystems (PAGE). These numbers briefly encapsulate the issues of environmental sustainability. When we think about a possible collapse of these ecosystems, we realize that society has some formidable problems to address as well as some attractive opportunities to seize.

Now on to economic equability. This issue is inextricably intertwined with environmental sustainability. David Landes, an economic historian at Harvard, noted in his monumental The Wealth and Poverty of Nations that: "The gap in wealth and health that separates rich and poor

. . . is the greatest single problem and danger facing the world of the Third Millennium. The only other worry that comes close to this is environmental deterioration, and the two are intimately connected, indeed are one."

Let us examine a few numbers in Human Development 2000, prepared by the United Nations Development Programme. That report shows a widening economic gap between the billion people in the 29 OECD countries and the 582 million individuals in the 43 least-developed countries of the world. That gap is ominous. The per capita production of goods and services each year in the OECD countries is $21,000; in the least-developed countries that number is $270 (less than a dollar a day). In short, the average capacity of individuals in OECD countries to produce goods and services is 78 times greater than it is in the least-developed countries. The gross national product in the OECD countries is $23 trillion; it is less than a trillion dollars in the least-developed countries.

A business-as-usual scenario for 2050 would lead to a population of almost 1.4 billion in OECD countries and 1.8 billion in the least developed countries. The ratio of the per capita production of goods and services between the two groups for this scenario would increase from 78 to 107. With reference to Landes' coupling of the gap in health with the gap in wealth, it is worth noting that the life expectancy in industrial countries is nearly 50 per higher than it is in the least-developed countries. There are eight times more doctors per 100,000 people in industrial countries than there are in the least-developed countries.

One (and only one of many) alternative to a business-as-usual scenario would be to reduce the rate of population growth by one-half everywhere and contain the annual growth of individual economic productivity in the OECD countries to 1.0 percent per year (from its current 1.5 per cent), while increasing it in the least-developed countries from its present 0.9 per cent to 7.1 per cent (the 20-year average figure for Korea, China, Mongolia and the Eastern Asian countries). In this scenario, the present ratio of 78 for individual economic productivity between the two groups of countries would be reduced to three. Living standards in the OECD countries, as measured by the average economic productivity of individuals, would improve by 67 per cent. But in the least-developed countries the standard of living, by the same measure, would improve 40 times. This alternative scenario is simply an example of the kind of transition that is possible. Many other possible variations can be envisioned, depending on societal values and the willingness of the stakeholders to act in concert to pursue agreed-upon goals. These considerations outline the issue of economic equability.

We turn now to an emerging hypothesis. Wealth-creating assets in the past have been land and labor, then energy and capital. Now it is knowledge, broadly construed, that is emerging as an additional wealth-generating asset. In his challenging book Consilience, E. O. Wilson remarks in the penultimate page that "A great deal of serious thinking will be needed to navigate the decades immediately ahead. … only unified learning, universally shared, makes accurate foresight and wise choice possible. … we are learning the fundamental principle that ethics is everything." I suspect Wilson would be pleased at the emphasis given to ethics at this Forum.

The knowledge enterprise consists of four activities: discovery, integration, dissemination and application. Discovery involves research. Integration crosses disciplines and sectors of society. Dissemination in a knowledge-based society really calls for life-long learning. Application brings in business and industry because it involves putting knowledge to work in producing and consuming goods and services. This array of activities addresses the nature of–and interaction among–matter, living organisms, energy, information and human behavior. Today, this cascading knowledge enterprise holds promise for remarkable human progress, even as it entailing the threats we have just noted. A little reflection on that promise is in order…

Knowledge in the physical sciences continues to grow impressively. It is literally exploding in the biological and health sciences. Moreover, a revolution is under way in the technologies for handling information and distributing knowledge. Collaboratories for joint research at a distance and distance education for lifelong learning are among the new tools at our disposal. It is timely to propose the hypothesis that cascading knowledge can now be marshaled to pursue imaginative goals within sight and address the problems outlined above. The goal is an environmentally sustainable, economically prosperous and equitable and socially stable society. This is a society in which harmony exists between human and natural systems. It is a society in which all of the basic human needs and an equitable share of human aspirations can be met while maintaining a healthy, physically attractive and biologically productive environment. In the end, decisions and actions by well-informed individuals in local communities in partnership with inspired leaders will forge a path into the future that renews rather than to degrades the physical and biological environment and enriches rather than to impoverishes the cultural environment.

We propose to test this hypothesis in the Western Hemisphere where the issues we have been discussing are all evident. Canada and United States have a combined population of 305 million. The 34 countries in the Latin America and Caribbean regions have 498 million people. The annual production of goods and services per capita in Canada and the U.S. is $28,000. In the other 34 countries it is $3,830. This is a measure of the inequity among nations in the Americas. A business-as-usual scenario to 2050 leads to per capita production of $71,000 in Canada and the U.S. and $10,300 in the other 34 countries. In this scenario the economic gap would then grow from about $2,400 to $61,000.

One of many alternative scenarios would be to utilize our cascading knowledge to (a) reduce the rate of annual growth of population in all countries of the Western Hemisphere by one-half, (b) reduce the annual rate of growth of individual economic productivity in Canada and the USA from 1.8 per cent to 1.2 per cent, and (c) double the rate of annual growth in individual economic productivity in the 34 countries (from 1.9 to 3.8 per cent). This scenario would double the average living standards in Canada and the U.S. and increase them seven-fold in the other 34 countries. Equality would not have been reached, but inequity between these two groups would have been reduced and average living standards raised everywhere. Reduction of inequities within countries could be pursued internally in the light of overall prosperity. The economy of the Western Hemisphere would have expanded four-fold. Modification in modes of production and consumption would be required to avoid unacceptable threats to life-supporting ecosystems in the Western Hemisphere. The resilience of these ecosystems would be studied for an array of scenarios.

Other issues also need to be addressed: (a) expansion of the concept of the gross national product to take into account the environmental impact of economic growth, (b) cultivation of eco-efficiency (environmentally benign production and consumption of goods and services), (c) alternatives to fossil fuels to power economic growth, (d) intellectual property rights in a knowledge-based economy, (e) improvements in the delivery of heath care, and (f) development of electronic or optical communications networks for decision-making in local communities. Finally, in addition to the major task of assessing the resilience of natural ecosystem, there is the overarching imperative in the knowledge age to foster life-long learning through the distance education.

An informal consortium of institutions is engaged in initiating Western Hemisphere Knowledge Partnerships to test the hypothesis that knowledge, broadly construed, does have the potential power to change society in the Americas and to demonstrate this power to the world. In addition to Sigma Xi, the core group at present includes AAAS, the American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC), American Geophysical Union, Business Council for Sustainable Development in Latin America, Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research, Intrah (health care delivery group at the University of North Carolina), INTRAH (Harvard-affiliated academic exchange program). New York Academy of Sciences, Pacific Northwest Laboratory (collaboratories for alternative energy), Phi Beta Kappa, ICSU's START, and the University of Maryland. Members of the initial core group bring together the disciplines (physical, biological health, social, and engineering sciences, as well as the humanities) and the relevant sectors of society (academia, business and industry, government, and nongovernmental organizations) that must be involved in an endeavor of this scope and magnitude of WHKP.

We have had interesting discussions as we seek to forge a response to the grand challenges of the 21st century in which the issue of intergenerational equity is embedded. The knowledge age challenges society and, I might add, it also challenges the more than 500 chapters of Sigma Xi in the Americas to participate in the Western Hemisphere Knowledge Partnerships!

 

Back to top | Copyright ©2013. All Rights Reserved.