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
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
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
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.
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 ofand interaction amongmatter, 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
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