FACING THE FUTURE
An Introductory Note
by V.V. Raman
It is no secret that human societies have been facing problems and turmoil, epidemics and calamities all through the ages. But seldom in recent memory have so many people in all regions of the world who know something of the facts and trends experienced the kind of gloom about our future that stares at us. Uncontrolled population growth and diminishing energy resources, impending water scarcity and ominous climate changes are just some of the threats from the physical world. Add to these the avoidable pains and problems from our cultural inheritance: race conflicts, ideological fanaticism, national pride, religious bigotry, inter-religious hate and the like, and we don’t get a pretty picture at all.
No matter how optimistic one may be, we simply have to face the growing dominance of these in the future. Not profound analysis but common sense would dictate that we need to drastically alter our technologically shaped life-style where over-consumption is the growing norm, economic goals where growth is a sine qua non, and values where individual satisfaction is a stronger force than group safety, and policies where national self-interests override international peace and justice.
The question that arises is: If significant revisions of all these is necessary for our survival why don’t we exert to achieve them? There are reasons: Over-consumption is a psychological ailment, an addiction from which it is extremely difficult to free oneself once we are conditioned to it. Also when some people/nations in the world are significantly better off than others and the matter is broadcast all over the world, there is no incentive on the part of the disadvantaged (the vast majority of global population) to cut down on their consumption. Human biological evolution seems to have etched more intensely individual gratification in the human instinct to ensure species survival than collective and cooperative behavior as with ants and bees. Economic growth has become an indispensable factor for providing work and food to all the members of a society. National self-interest seems to be essential in a world of competing and mutually untrusting groups. Bigotry is often derived from convictions that none other than one’s own group has all the truths
Yet, given that the probability of impending disasters is increasing every day, one would hope that governments and peoples would strive to do whatever they can to avert an irreversible catastrophe. What makes the problems extraordinarily difficult is that there is no effective supra-national body to enforce the needed actions.
On the positive side, scientists and inventors are working all over the world to resolve some of the practical problems while religious leaders and thoughtful thinkers are inspiring the public to modify self-centered and myopic values that are not helpful in this predicament. One may hope that they and the millions of men and women of goodwill and good sense will serve the cause of our long-range survival.
I thank all those who graciously responded to my invitation to submit their thoughts on this topic.
Humanity's Predicament, its Frustrations and Hopes
Trying to seize up humanity’s predicament, a first characteristic coming to mind could well be the current enormous differences in rights, future prospects, and wealth of its members. Basically, these differences have always existed but not to the degree they have attained today. While some differences are to be expected, and do not necessarily lead to upheavals, the situation becomes the more irreversible by normal developments and the more explosive the more these differences increase. Thus, the 13 British colonies in America declared their independence in 1776 and fought the Revolutionary War 1775-83 because they did no longer accept to be ruled from a distance without having any representation. Again, the privileges enjoyed by French Nobility and the Clergy supported notably by citizens’ high taxes, together with the American revolutionary example and the ideas of Enlightenment philosophers and social idealists brought about the French Revolution of 1789 and the ensuing civil war.As regards unequal rights, the position of women (compared to men) particularly in a number of cultures/religions respectively countries comes to mind. There follow the differences depending on social class and geographical origin. Quite a bit of this state of affairs is due to greed, avarice, and self-absorption of the powerful (which includes fathers, husbands and sons).
In this context one also has at least to list the possible greater or lesser consequences of global warming and other deteriorations of the environment.
Frustration is not infrequently the direct consequence of situations just referred to (such as dying from lack of food) and even more so because of their persistence. Take the current situation in Syria, the killing of thousands of its own people by order of the President, and the seeming incapacity of the world community to stop this. How can that nourish any hope? Nevertheless, one still dares to believe that with time a solution will be found and implemented for Syria but how many innocents will have lost their lives until then ?
What nevertheless justifies hope? To begin with a personal note: Having some difficulty walking (at soon 89 years), I am struck by the number of unknown persons who offer me support to negotiate steps and difficult passages, to help with my wife’s luggage, etc. Increasing the radius of awareness, positive responses by private voluntary organizations to social problems and natural disasters has been and is effective and heart warming.
Admittedly, such actions do not necessarily change for the better the root causes of the criticized state of affairs. To achieve a decisive lasting change is a great task and requires a long breath, and one probably cannot avoid some detours and even getting stuck in blind alleys as history shows. Therefore efforts aimed at a better future can only be a success if sufficiently thought through (for which the exchanges between IRAS members by e-mail and at conferences are an enriching training ground), supported by many active persons, and maintained despite all setbacks.RAS has a fascinating and distinguished history of more than fifty years—focusing on issues entailed in its name: religion in an age of science. I was actively engaged with IRAS for thirty years—1975-2005—and I have kept in touch from a distance since then. My reflections on the future of IRAS grow out of this history and out of my sense of what the future of our age of science will bring.
I take my start with the name: religion in an age of science. IRAS has attracted gifted scientists from its beginning—indeed that has been its contribution and its distinctiveness. A strong scientific presence is essential for IRAS—that’s what makes us interesting...
The struggle for IRAS has been and continues to be with religion. Our striving has been a distinguished one, but we continue to be dissatisfied with the outcome. In this we are a microcosm of the macrocosm—our culture as a whole has been unable to figure out how religion fits in an age of science. By persisting in the effort, we make a contribution to our society as a whole.
I look at religion under two aspects: traditional religion (TR) and religion re-conceived (RRC). RRC refers to the widespread sense that TR is obsolete, rendered irreparably out of touch by the developments of science--thus calling for a religious alternative. IRAS has gone farther than most others in this direction in its proposals for Religious Naturalism. These proposals have achieved widespread recognition. They are part of our contribution to the larger cultural discussion. Our Mission Statement ( http://www.iras.org/mission.html ) masks this effort, in my opinion, because it roots our efforts in an ambiguous desire “take the natural world seriously as a primary source of meaning” rather than a straightforward recognition that we are proposing an alternative to TR.
IRAS has been less successful, however, in integrating TR with scientific knowledge. In this, we have failed to deal with the really difficult issue facing our world culture. It is the TRs that have for millennia been interwoven with the foundations of the cultures of the world. Furthermore, several billion people adhere to TR today. Taking the measure of TR is surely the central “religion and science” issue of our time. We in IRAS have hardly made our contribution to the cultural discussion or discharged the mandate of our own 50-year history if we are not grappling in deep and meaningful ways with TR. The engagement with TR is certainly more demanding than any other we face—intellectually and spiritually.
IRAS’s founders made notable efforts on both of these fronts—re-conceiving religion while at the same time seeking to integrate traditional religious beliefs and practices into those re-conceptions. I believe that this two-pronged challenge — RRC and TR -- should be more prominent in our minds as we move forward.
It may be that IRAS faces a challenge in shaping its business plan. Our annual conferences have more recently followed a pattern of dealing with critical current practical issues (water, energy, food—as well as others) from both scientific and religious perspectives. Generally, this results in a fragmented view of religion which delivers insights that are more scientifically astute than they are religiously profound or helpful. Rather than showing religion to be a source of profound wisdom for the human experiment, they tend to cast religion in the instrumental role of supporting scientifically informed social movements.
The issues I have focused on may attract an audience different from our present constituency which in turn would greatly impact the annual conferences and perhaps also the membership profile. Further, the Mission Statement may well need re-casting. I propose this agenda out of my desire to see IRAS fulfill the important vision upon which it was founded—to make a genuinely profound contribution to world culture at this critical moment in history.
Facing the Future: Not Optimistic but Hopeful
Richard S. Gilbert
"The tragedy of life is not death, but what dies inside while we are living. We must recognize that we get our basic energy, not from turbines, but from hope." Norman Cousins.
The year 2012 has not been a propitious one, and the state of the nation in this presidential election year is problematic. I am not optimistic about the state of the wider world, either. The unfinished business of two tragic wars, political paralysis in Washington, an unpromising election season and a shaky world economy have not left me an optimistic man. Reason suggests I have good grounds to feel as I feel.
However, as a person of faith, I find that I am hopeful. Distinguishing between optimism and hope can be useful. Optimism in my lexicon is an unsubstantiated belief that things will somehow work out, will inevitably get better, either through divine intervention or just plain dumb luck. Hope, on the other hand, is a religious value that embodies a commitment to work for what I call the Beloved Community. I find a world of difference between the two. I may not be optimistic from time to time, but I am ever hopeful, because my faith instills it in me.
A definition of faith might be helpful. H. L. Mencken defined faith as “an illogical belief in the occurrence of the improbable.” That is clearly not what I mean. Oliver Wendell Holmes described faith as “when man decides that he is not God.” That is a bit closer. L. P. Jacks declared faith to be “not belief in spite of the evidence, but adventure in scorn of consequences.” Still closer to my view. Or, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “If I knew the world was coming to an end tomorrow, I’d still plant a tree today.” While I don’t believe our world will come to an end tomorrow, I’m not sure what will happen. Nonetheless, I intend to plant a tree – or its equivalent for a 75-year-old preacher.
My hope is grounded partly in the spirit of science, that open-ended quest for truth about ourselves and our world. Not only has it helped create a humble view of our human role on this planet, but it has also given us many of the tools we need to build that Beloved Community, a human order of justice, peace and sustainability. Science has laid waste centuries of dogma about humanity, history, the heavens and our earth. Whether it be in revealing the miracle of
DNA or the mystery of the cosmos, it has deepened our spirits in wonder.
During my college days I heard a Phi Beta Kappa lecture/dialogue on science and religion at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York. One of the speakers, Harvard scientist Kirkely Mather, defined science as the dynamic self-correcting discipline of the human mind. The other, Boston University School theologian Edwin Prince Booth, defined religion as the dynamic self-correcting discipline of the human spirit. The key word in each definition was “self-correcting.” Dogmatic, fundamentalist religion has become terribly dangerous because it has no inner mechanism for change. A liberal religious perspective, like science, has within it a capacity to evolve – to realize that our human task is not to believe we have arrived, but to realize that we are ever on a journey. And that gives me hope.
I have not heard any better expression of hope than in the 13th century Sufi mystic poet Rumi:
“Come, come whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving, come.
Come, though you have broken your vow a thousand times.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, yet again, come.”
Facing Our Future: Easter Reflections of a Hopeful Pessimist
Does facing our future entail facing the need for and possibility of civilization-scale transformation? Is a fundamental transformation of our modern/Industrial form of civilization the price we must pay if we are to become truly sustainable and deeply humane?
These have become the central questions in my life and work. They have me in their grip. They gnaw at me daily. In what follows I will share one line of sight and thought that leads to both pessimism and hope.
First, I must tell you that I distinguish between a culture and a form of civilization. I use form of civilization to point to one of only four fundamental ways our species has lived: as nomadic tribes, as local/regional settled peoples, as regional empires and as modern/ Industrial societies/economies. A transformation of our dominant form of civilization, then, would entail the emergence of a fifth fundamental way of living.
By a culture I point to the unique ways in which a particular people manifest a particular form of civilization, given their time and place in history. So today, one can distinguish among American, French and Swedish cultures, although all are now versions of what I characterize as the modern/Industrial form of civilization. In the same way, within a tribal form of civilization, one can distinguish among the Cree, the Navajo and the wandering Arameans of whom Abraham was one.
Every culture can be seen as making an unconscious bet that what it takes as reliable knowledge of the cosmos, earth and persons actually has an adequate enough grasp on reality to ensure its future. A deep confidence that “we have a secure grip on reality” marks every living culture. One reason, of course, is that deeply self-doubting cultures are relatively short-lived. Therefore, it is not surprising that all robust cultures strive to form the consciousness, character and conduct of their young in ways that are consistent with the best of their inherited cosmic views, earthly traditions and human aspirations. It is assumed by all such peoples that “who we are” reflects a continuing identity that is both rightfully ours and right with the world. UNESCO even proclaims their right to be so forever.
It follows that there is one type of work that we would not expect to have been officially assigned and funded in any past or exising culture – learning to see, explore, understand, challenge and transcend the culture’s inherited cosmic views, formative traditions and societal aspirations, and to do so in a reflexive, integra, comprehensive and humane manner.
Of course, wise and prophetic persons and communities may emerge. Such persons may even make a difference. However, the teachings and admonitions of such persons occur within the root sensibility that characterizes their form of civilization. It is not surprising, then, that the activity of permanently nurturing wise, prophetic and reflexive communities in order to ensure that the culture as a whole and its form of civilization is grounded in reality is nowhere to be found among the routine and institutionalized work in any culture. Such work has not yet been assigned. It follows that as of 2012, no culture can truthfully assure itself that the bet is it living will pay off in the long run. In short, no culture can say with confidence that it has a long-term future; that it is truly sustainable.
Happily, it has been safe to ignore these troubling observations for most of the life of our species. This stance applies:
And a growing number of us are increasingly fearful that this project is not sustainable.
Given that we are familiar with the idea of human beings developing new capacities to meet new challenges, you would think that the notion would emerge among us that we had best check to see that we have a complete inventory of the whole range of threats and opportunites that we must face in the early 21st Century and that all the truly life-altering (strategic) ones are assigned to some suitable community for thoughtful exploration and reflection. But this is not yet the case.
And, we should not be too hard on ourselves. A case can be made that the 21st Century is the first time in history during which the dominant form of civilization is being challenged by the planet. Until now, whole cultures have failed, but not a form of civilization. The work that now faces us is new work.
And, we had best get at this work now. We may need the analogue of the Manhattan Project – a huge and exceptionally well-funded effort to pull together all that is known in order to ensure that what we face is an extended future, not our extinction.
Saving Our Future: Balancing Liberty with Law
Paul H. Carr
Can technologies save us in time?
An economic collapse, circa 2030, was predicted in “Limits to Growth.” Published in 1972, the MIT researchers’ projections of the population explosion and non-renewable resource depletion have been accurate to date,
Medical advances and the green revolution enabled the exponential growth of our population to over 7 billion. Can new birth control technology save us in time to prevent the predicted population crash from starvation and wars?
The burning of fossil fuels has enhanced our standard of living with the unintended consequence of carbon emissions that cause global warming with its rising sea levels and weather extremes. Fossil-fuel lobbyists and skeptics deny these findings of the UN IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change). Will their denial prevent new technology for non-carbon emitting energy sources to be deployed in time? Will their faith in Adam Smith’s invisible hand of laissez faire economics save us from our unsustainability? Should this libertarian extreme be balanced by laws and regulations to prevent the tragedy of the commons?
Tragedy of the Commons versus The Invisible Hand of Economics
The tragedy of the commons was a term coined by William Forster Lloyd (1833), in which liberty for individual gain leads to tragedy. Lloyd was familiar with herdsmen who were at liberty to grazed their cows on a commons. Each individual gained economically by adding more cows to his own herd. As each exercised his liberty for individual gain, the commons became overgrazed, resulting in the tragedy of starving cows.
In today’s global economy, a tragedy of the commons is the fact that everyone is at liberty to burn fossil fuels that pollute our common atmosphere. Coal is the worst both in carbon dioxide, mercury, arsenic emissions, and particle pollution. Emissions from U.S. coal plants cut short the lives of an estimated 30,000 people per year from asthma attacks, cardiac problems and upper and lower respiratory problems
There are ethical and economic solutions. The “love your neighbor” ethic would lead each individual to limit his number of cows for their neighbor’s good and their fossil fuel emissions to save our planetary home. Immanuel Kant expressed this as the categorical imperative, the ethical concern for the common good. Religion fosters belief in that which transcends our own limited and selfish economic perspectives.
In our globalized world, economic solutions, laws (regulations, taxes) are more viable for avoiding the tragedy of the commons. A tax on each cow or a law regulating the number could be passed. These would limit their population to a sustainable level. Similar solutions could apply to the emission carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
In 2009 the US House of Representatives passed the Markey-Waxman Bill, “Clean Energy & Security Act.” This Cap-and-Trade bill put a price on carbon emissions which would have given non-carbon emitting energy, such as wind, solar, and nuclear, an economic advantage. It was an environmental tragedy that Sen. John Kerry (D) could not rally enough Republican support for the bill to pass in the Senate.
Those who opposed the bill had faith in libertarian or Laissez Faire economics. This is based on Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand (1776), which guides individual gain towards the public interest. Smith’s “Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1776) envisaged an invisible hand, the idea that an individual who "intends only his own gain, is, as it were, led by an invisible hand to promote . . . the public interest."
The laissez faire solution to the problem of overgrazing by cows would be to wait until the malnourished cows died off and their owners perished from starvation. This seems to be our present course. The projections of the classic book “Limits to Growth,” (1972), which have been accurate to date, predicts a population decline circa 2030 following an economic collapse from the depletion of the earth’s non-renewable resources.
Balancing Liberty with Law
A balance between the liberty for individual gain and laws that regulate them is needed. If there were no incentives for individual gain, no one would want to own cows, and no one would invent and develop new non-carbon-emitting energy sources. On the other hand, without laws and regulations, too many cows (and people) on the limited grazing area of a commons leads to the tragedy of starvation, and the unrestrained consumption of our planet’s limited resources.
Facing The Future
What does it mean to ‘Face the Future’? To me it means living it eyes open, head up and being engaged with it. It means awareness, confidence and actively affecting it. Predicting the future it is wasting time. We have no assurances what it holds. There are no certainties, only possibilities and probabilities. We can’t determine it, but we may influence it to some degree. Karma will help do this.
Karma, as used here, is the observation that what we sow is what we shall reap. Or as my mother would say, you sleep in the bed you make. It is a process based on awareness before the fact, recognition of a need for self responsibility which leads to intelligent self direction. Conscious self determination will more likely produce positive future outcomes.
The 2012 IRAS conference will be looking at three huge problems where a karmic approach would be wise. They are global warming, natural resource depletion and over population of the world by humanity. Only one of these is of critical concern. The population explosion is seriously, right now, it’s endangering the world’s ecology. Reducing Homo sapiens and the other two will cease to be critical issues.
There have been numerous best guess on how many people the world can support. They are guesses relying on big assumptions of what the caring capacity of the Earth may be. Biologists define carrying capacity as the maximum population of a given species that can survive in a given environment indefinitely. It is estimated that we will have about 12 billion people on the Earth by 2150 or almost twice what we had a few decades ago. We are witnessing unrestrained runaway growth of humanity. It is extremely doubtful that the life support system of the planet can support this many people for a while much less forever.
We have already exceeded the Earth’s capacity to sustain humanity. We are at the maximum limit of ocean fishing with 2 billion people going to bed hungry every night. We are possibly beyond the limit for carbon dioxide in the air. Peak oil production will occur in about 13 years and decline. Potable water is now scarce in places. One could go on an on. Where will we get the oil, land, fertilizer and water to feed those hungry 2 billion much less an extra 5 billion more? Where is the gumption to address this?
Ken Smail in his workshop several years ago pointed out that to stabilize the world’s population where it is now would require exterminating 200,000 people a day, every day, indefinitely! I checked his math, he had it right. So outside of setting off an atomic bomb daily in some city, how do we go about getting down to a sustainable number of humans? In addition there are reasonable claims that this 200,000 a day reduction will not suffice. Another 20% (some say 50%) reduction is necessary. 20% means 95,890 more people a day need to be ‘eliminated’ for the next 40 years. To say the least, these are ghastly numbers, but valid ones. [(7 billionx20%) / (365x40) = 95,890; increase of humans every year = 73 million / 365 = 200,000 people per day]
If this be the case, and it is, we obviously have a horrendous problem that outweighs all others. I believe it is a moral, religious one, not one of technology. The world’s largest religions actively oppose birth control and abortion, are ignoring valid mathematical facts and the demon coming down the road. Do we get them to change their beliefs? Or do we adapt a paradigm such as Religious Naturalism (it accepts scientific facts), capable of facing the lifeboat problem? The boat has six people but only enough provisions for three. What mustbe done for the best practical outcome? For the best moral one?
This does not involve rocket science; just simple math, tough decisions for sure, immense courage and the resolve to do what is needed. Facing modern dilemmas necessitates modernization of religious/moral outlooks. The answers are not in the old books. Also needed is a whole lot of good karma to aid the process– awareness, taking responsibility and then making it happen. We must Face the Future or be flattened by it. That will hurt a great bit. It is not if humanity will survive - it will - but how well it will survive and live with its guilt, the guilt of exceeding natural laws. The better we face it, the better the possibilities.
Saving the Future
Ever since Nicolaus Copernicus described Earth as just one of a family of planets orbiting the Sun, humans have wondered if there are other occupied planets orbiting other stars. Meanwhile, their technological and cultural evolution has separated humans even from the other of Earth's inhabitants. Indeed, Homo sapiens has evolved to what Harvard Professor Emeritus Owen Gingerich calls the "Lamarckian Divide," beyond which more information can be carried in our brains than in our DNA.
The pace of this cultural evolution has been dizzying, as our great great grandparents would have been more at home in the world of George Washington or even Christopher Columbus than our world of 2012. We've reached a stage where we have the dubious "capability" to ruin our environment. Our effects are unintentional side-effects of economic activities in the energy, manufacturing, transport, and other sectors that result in air and water pollution, soil degradation, noise and electromagnetic pollution. We also have numerous intentional impacts, such as mountaintop removal, industrial agriculture, tar-sands excavation, and pandemic damming of rivers. Even larger endeavors are contemplated, especially “climate engineering,” which urgently needs to be assessed for impacts and risks, and for which governance structures need to be developed.
Through their collective impacts, humans are shaping the face of the Earth and its atmosphere on geological time scales; thus the designation “Anthropocene” to characterize a new epoch succeeding the Holocene. The concept is widely accepted, though not universally, and certain aspects are still being debated. For example, what is the starting point: thousands of years ago with the advent of agriculture, or more recently with the industrial revolution? In either case, human impacts are embedded in the complex Earth System of atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere and biosphere. The human effects are so numerous and dominant as to constitute an "Anthroposphere" governing or disrupting the interconnected cycles and functions of the natural spheres.
Pat Mooney, a veteran of sustainability and technology issues in international affairs, proposes a perspective on technology for the Anthropocene. Perhaps the technological issue of this epoch is not so much the generation of "know-how," but rather the prudent identification of "know what," as in what issues shall we direct our technological progress toward? During the Anthropocene, do we yet have the luxury of large expenditures on research and development toward the marginal improvement of consumer goods? Or do we marshal our technological forces toward restoring the harmony of atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere?
Such questions fall under the rubric of "technology assessment," with a rich history intertwined with that of ecological economics. The foreboding scope and expansion of the Anthroposphere must be put in economic context for the sake of harmony with nature. Harmony, indeed saving the future, entails underpinning economics with scientific and moral foundations. Without basic laws of physics and ecology, limits to growth are easily overlooked. Meanwhile, without a moral foundation, principles of economics may easily be misapplied.
For example, the principle of diminishing marginal benefits establishes that more human benefit ensues from poverty alleviation than from increasing the consumption of goods and services by the already-wealthy. Yet without a moral foundation, diminishing marginal benefits may only lead producers (and advertisers) to cater to new markets in otherwise satiated societies.
Properly grounded, a more ecologically informed economics provides clear rules for sustainability: renewable resource extraction cannot exceed the regeneration rate, pollution outflows cannot exceed absorption capacity, neither extraction nor pollution can threaten essential ecosystem functions, and essential non-renewable resources cannot be depleted faster than we develop substitutes.
Macroeconomic policy is especially important to reform. It often goes overlooked that "economic growth" means increasing production and consumption of goods and services in the aggregate. It entails increasing population and/or per capita consumption and is indicated by increasing GDP. Therefore, growing the solar panel or other "green" sectors is not economic growth; it may or may not accompany increasing production and consumption in the aggregate.
Economic growth, indicated by increasing GDP, proceeds at the competitive exclusion of non-human species in the aggregate. This fundamental conflict between growth and, generally, life on Earth, cannot be reconciled via technological progress because, all along in the concurrent processes of economic growth and technological progress, economies of scale are depended upon for maintaining the economic surplus required for financing research and development.
Serious approaches to biodiversity conservation, harmony with nature, and saving the future entail serious alternatives to growth. The two basic alternatives are recession, which is unsustainable, and the steady state economy, the sustainable option. Among other things, international diplomacy toward "steady statesmanship" is perhaps the only human dialog that may obviate Malthusian scenarios such as world wars, starvation, and pestilence.
The Great Balancing Act: How to Feed 9 Billion People While Sustaining Ecosystems in a Changing Climate
Global human population is projected to increase from 7 billion today to more than 9 billion by 2050 (UN 2011). To sufficiently feed a population of 9 billion, worldwide food availability will need to increase by at least 70 percent (FAO 2009). Meanwhile, much of the planet’s natural capital is being degraded through the extensification and intensification of food production. Food production is the largest cause globally of deforestation, accounts for 70% of global freshwater use and contributes up to 27 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions per year. These impacts, in turn, can undercut future food production. Climate change, for example, will have profound implications due to changing precipitation patterns and other factors that are critical to agriculture (IPCC 2007). Likewise, food production depends on the availability of freshwater and numerous ecosystem services such as soil formation, erosion control, pollination, and more (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005).
This presentation will begin with an overview of global meta-trends shaping our world in the coming decades. It will discuss how a convergence of trends poses one of the paramount challenges of the century: how can the world adequately feed more than 9 billion people by 2050 in a manner that reduces pressure on climate, ecosystems, and freshwater while helping to alleviate poverty? It will then discuss strategies for responding to this challenge, including reducing food waste, addressing yield gaps, restoring degraded lands, shifting diets, and reducing competition for food crops from alternative uses. The presentation will draw on real-world examples of how particular obstacles are being overcome and solutions are being successfully implemented around the globe.
facing the future
I'll deal with "Facing the Future" from a personal perspective, with a focus on topics relevant to IRAS. My theme is about how breakdowns in communications can interfere with a healthy future. In the last six months I've had two personal experiences that made this message vivid for me. The first example involves my recent involvement with the UC Berkeley (Cal) Occupy movement. An inability to compromise and listen to each other has caused Occupy Cal to fall apart. The second example came from being appointed to the campus Task Force on Intercollegiate Athletics. The athletics administration had refused to share information with an anti-athletics group of faculty, who then sent damaging misinformation to many leading newspapers, including a recent article in the Wall Street Journal. I see a clear parallel to mainstream climate scientists not engaging in discussions with individuals who have contrarian views, resulting in the public's mistrust of the climate scientists' data. I've developed a strong desire to get people with contrarian views to sit down and calmly explore the facts together. I'll apply my zeal on this topic to three newish ideas of relevance to IRAS.
1) Global energy/sustainability/climate change. It's wonderful that our next two IRAS conferences are on Saving the Future (2012) and on Food (2013). I'm organizing an IRAS2012 workshop to listen to and be respectful of contrarian positions. Richard Muller's new book "Energy for Future Presidents" has thoughtful, but surprising, contrarian positions on many topics relevant to our conference, from electric cars to dealing with China. Since he is a colleague at UC Berkeley I will prepare for the conference by discussing issues with him that I suspect will differ from views expressed by our IRAS2012 speakers. My personal goal is to gain a deeper understanding of controversies associated with climate change and global energy resources so that the issues separating the two sides can be clarified. The conflicts can then either be resolved or agreement could be found on what further data is needed for resolving the differences.
2) Science/Religion and Politics of the 99%. I joined IRAS because I felt it was the organization that came closest to being engaged in Einstein's vision that "Religion without science is blind; Science without religion is lame". In order to save the future from a variety of calamities I'm now convinced that critical changes are needed in how science and religion and the public relate:
3)Resolving the Science/Psi wars. My recent experience at the Tucson "Towards a Science of Consciousness" conference reminded me of the strong mistrust between those who believe in paranormal phenomena (psi) and those who don't. That mistrust gets in the way of healthy dialog for facing the future similar to the science/religion mistrust. The nice thing about psi is that it is solidly data based. New technologies of social media are enabling psi to be tested on a global scale that should be able to resolve the conflict in these areas. I see spillover from these new ventures to the science/religion issues of interest to IRAS. Resolution of the psi wars can reduce obstacles facing the integration of scientific knowledge with the wisdom found in religions.
Copyright 2013 by The Institute on Religion in an Age of Science