American Association for the Advancement of Science Warning of Future Environmental Havoc from Western Society's Lifestyle
SABIN RUSSELL /SF Chronicle 15feb02
Boston -- With a bleak assessment of the health of the planet, the president of the nation's largest scientific organization opened its 168th annual meeting here with a ringing call for conservation of resources and expanded use of renewable energy.
In remarks prepared for delivery yesterday evening, Peter Raven, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, warned that the affluent lifestyle of Western society is increasingly unsustainable and unattainable for most of the world's teeming population of 6.1 billion.
"We have become accustomed to thinking of the world as a place in which everyone could eventually become rich," he said. "This may be so, but it cannot happen using the technologies we possess now, and building to industrialized-world levels of consumption everywhere."
Raven, who is director of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, said it is urgent that the United States reduce dependence on "both foreign and domestic sources of oil, coal and natural gas," and that the country put a priority on conservation and the use of alternative energy such as wind, solar and geothermal power.
Raven singled out for particularly harsh criticism Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, whose recent book, "The Skeptical Environmentalist," argues that the global environment is improving, not deteriorating. Environmentalists' arguments to the contrary, Lomborg argues, are ill informed.
Raven said that the success of Lomborg's book "demonstrates the vulnerability of the scientific process -- which is deliberative and hypothesis driven -- to outright misrepresentation and distortion."
". . . It is difficult to understand why Cambridge University Press published his book, or why the justifiably respected and useful journal like the Economist would rush to his defense."
Raven painted a picture of the human species at once blossoming and plundering the globe's resources, setting the stage for enormous biological extinctions on a scale not seen since the end of the Cretaceous Period.
"We can see that the world has been converted in an instant of time from a wild, natural one to one in which human beings, one of an estimated 10 million species of organisms, are consuming, wasting or diverting an estimated 45 percent of the total net biological productivity on land and using more than half of the renewable fresh water."
With world population projected to grow by 3 billion in 50 years, he said, "We clearly will have an increasingly difficult time in maintaining our current levels of affluence."
Science, he maintained, still has the solutions for a sustainable society. Raven said that industrialized nations must combat ignorance with education and attend to the growing gap between rich and poor nations. The model for a sustainable society, he said, was laid out during another time of national crisis, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he delivered his famed "Four Freedoms" address of Jan. 6, 1941.
Raven said Roosevelt's call for freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear needed to be re-embraced by global leaders of both public and private institutions.
A sustainable future will depend, said Raven, on "a new industrial revolution" that uses science to address issues of over-consumption, overpopulation and the development of "appropriate technologies."
His remarks opened the 168th annual meeting of the organization, which was founded in 1848 and this year is drawing 5,000 scientists from across the country in a rare blending of multiple research disciplines.
An enormously diverse array of programs, spanning biology, earth science, medicine and astrophysics, is offered in hopes that all this brainpower drawn together can draw new insights by exposure to different disciplines. It is also a bit of a party, where top researchers socialize and recall their laboratory triumphs and challenging days as graduate students.
The meeting is a snapshot of what our technological society has become, where it has been and where it is going -- a long strange trip from the first session, which was held the year gold was discovered in California.
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