John Furie Zacharias
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Thunderstorms Anywhere

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Friday, February 13, 2004
Inventing a better future


It's all we got -- when it's broke, we're done.

Since it is Friday the 13th, let's discuss the luck and future of the planet.  Last week, Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, was given a report by the InterAcademy Council entitled "Inventing a better future: A Strategy for Building Worldwide Capacities in Science and Technology".  Upon receiving the report, he remarked in part about tapping into human creativity and innovation to reach millenium goals:

"Issues that most directly affect what we hope to achieve for ourselves and our families.  Issues that relate to building a life free of poverty and deadly disease, with enough food and clean drinking water, in a clean and safe environment.  Issues that are identified in the Millennium Development Goals, adopted by all the world's leaders here at the United Nations Millennium Summit in September 2000."

Unfortunately, the IAC report has some bad news.  The full report is available online.  Here is a brief excerpt:

"For the first time, the majority of human beings are now classified as urban, a phenomenon that will continue unabated, mostly in the developing world, even though some will use the new information and communications technology to work out of more rural surroundings. Urbanization will challenge the capacities of developing nations to deal with the enormous problems of their 'megacities' (those with populations over 10 million). Over the next three decades, India alone will face an increment of urban population twice the size of the total populations of France, Germany, and the United Kingdom combined."

This fact is borne out in the research done by the Committee on Population and published in "Cities Transformed: Demographic Change and Its Implications in the Developing World (2003)" also available to read fully online at the National Academies Press (NAP).

The IAC report goes on to say:

"Poverty, destitution, and hunger still stalk humanity. Despite the enormous improvements that have been achieved in human welfare, 38 percent of the people in the least developed nations are malnourished and the shadow of starvation and famine still looms large in parts of the world especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, where civil strife has exacerbated an already bad situation. One-sixth of the human family lives on less than a dollar a day, and almost half of humanity survives on fewer than two dollars a day. The richest quintile of the world's people earns more than 70 times the income of the poorest quintile."

These facts are well documented in last year's report at the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) web site.  There are some astounding facts in the 2003 report that make what your mother told you about "eating your food because kids in so-and-so country are going hungry" sound lame.  If you follow no other link today, check out the quotable facts of HDR 2003.  Additionally, the IAC report continues:

"Problems such as HIV/AIDS strike globally, though responses to the disease's devastation vary enormously with a nation's capacity to deliver treatment and modify societal behavior. Some societies are producing a generation of AIDS orphans, with large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia facing enormous and crippling losses. The decimation of young adults at their most productive moments is a human tragedy of gigantic proportions and a social and economic nightmare. Dramatic policy changes are required to address this issue, as well as persistent diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis and the more recent threat of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). More research is required to find better responses. Scientific collaboration on confronting the challenge and on making the results of the research available to those who need it most is essential."

Unfortunately as I heard one witness testify in congressional hearings on NASA's budgetary hearings in light of president Bush's big "Go to the moon" plan, (paraphrasing) "We need to fund this technology, this research and development, to stay ahead of the world.  Do you want China on the moon before us?  It's a national security issue, frankly".  So, while it may sound good and be the right thing to do -- to share technology, that is -- we (the U.S.) are not always going to do so.

But what happens if we continue doing things as we always have --  Think, act and consume like it was the 1950s?

"Environmental challenges abound. If present production and consumption patterns are not changed, the impact on our biosphere will be astounding: the air and water we depend on will become increasingly polluted; the soils will more and more erode; and forests, habitats, and biodiversity will continue to be lost. If the entire population of the earth were to produce and consume at present U.S. levels, we would need three Planet Earths. The need to implement more environmentally friendly and socially responsible economic activity has never been greater."

I don't know about you, but I would drive a hydrogen-fuel car if I could.  We better start soon too.  The Millenium Goals are supposed to be reached by 2015.

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Posted at 02:48 am by John Furie Zacharias

 

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