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Hunger Can Be Ended, Scientists at Columbia University Conference
May 16, 2002 Scientists
speaking at Columbia University expressed optimism that the technical
means now exist to end worldwide starvation in the next generation.
A hopeful view prevailed among the 26 speakers addressing an audience
of more than 400 gathered at Columbia University's second State
of the Planet Conference on May 13 and 14 to discuss the role of
science in achieving sustainability.
Results of the conference
including archived web broadcasts of all presentations may be viewed
at the Columbia Earth Institute website, http://www.earth.columbia.edu/sop2002.
"Our base of knowledge
across all disciplines has expanded dramatically in the 10 years
since the Rio Summit," noted John Mutter, associate vice provost
for the Earth Institute at Columbia, which hosted the two-day event.
"We know enough about the science of Earth to take action and
work at solving the miserable conditions under which a large share
of the planet's 6 billion people live."
A missing link is money
to address the problems. Incoming Earth Institute Director Jeffrey
Sachs said that if industrialized countries spend just one cent
out of every ten dollars earned, they could create an annual fund
of roughly $25 billion with which to control the spread of HIV/AIDS,
malaria, and tuberculosis, and end death during childbirth as well
as from diarrheal diseases. This would save around 25,000 lives
daily, or 8 million people annually. "This is a bargain on
the global scale," said Sachs. "I can't believe we
are not yet buying this bargain, but I believe that we will."
Speakers at the conference
noted that while institutions and political will need strengthening,
scientists have a responsibility to use their knowledge to improve
the livelihood of the 2 billion people living on less than one dollar
a day. "Making the transition to sustainability," said
keynote speaker Jane Lubchenco, "is the challenge of
our time, as we seek to build a world that meets the needs of its
peoples while it restores Earth's life support systems."
Added Michael Crow,
Executive Vice Provost at Columbia University, "It is the moral
responsibility of the Academy to conceptualize and implement the
means to produce a sustainable planet." Along with Crow, many
speakers voiced a need to build expertise locally. "We need
to develop the right institutions within countries to carry out
research and decision-making needed at those levels," said
Cristián Samper, acting director of the Smithsonian Tropical
Rather than prescribe
global solutions, conference participants called for local and regional
approaches to complement global approaches. For example, keynote
speaker Saleemul Huq, director for the Climate Change Program at
the International Institute for Environment and Development in London
who comes from Bangladesh, said, "Too often, we receive funding
and take the advice that comes with it, rather than employ what
we know about our particular situations. We need to combine global
and local knowledge, basic scientific research and traditional knowledge."
The Power of Science
as an Anti-poverty Tool
The State of the Planet
2002 Conference was intended to send a message to the World Summit
on Sustainable Development this August in Johannesburg, and the
World Food Summit that will precede it in June in Rome. Conference
organizers hope that policy makers at both summits will look to
science for the answers to some of the world's most serious
cited many specific examples of the ways that science can and does
help solve difficult problems facing the world's poor:
Improving soil fertility
in Africa so that tens of thousands of small farmers are no
women in coastal India to download climate information from
satellites and transmit ocean wave size predictions to area
to choose cleaner, modern technologies so that development can
proceed with less environmental cost.
Raising fish catches
by setting aside marine reserves.
loss by increasing the yield of food production.
While science can provide
the technical means, institutional and political will are lacking,
speakers at the conference said. Uma Lele, an agronomist at the
World Bank, observed that "We have to address the consequences
of plenty for the poor of the world. Agriculture needs to become
central to development again. The funding is stagnating even as
the agenda becomes much more diverse."
In spite of these difficulties,
it is significant that the world's leading scientific authorities
on sustainability science believe the scientific knowledge exists
to solve world poverty. As stated by Harvard scientist Calestous
Juma: "We have agreed on the basic problems and we are now
in an operational phase."
Professor Sachs will
be a key participant at both the Rome and Johannesburg summits as
both Special Administrator to Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Director
of the Earth Institute. Other members of the Earth Institute will
join him in Johannesburg,
Institute hosted the two-day conference in collaboration with the
London School of Economics and Political Science, Harvard University
and UNESCO. In just five years, the Earth Institute has become a
leader in Earth systems science teaching and research, and the application
of that science for the benefit of society. The Earth Institute
counts more than 800 Columbia faculty from eight research centers,
eight academic departments and seven schools among its supporters,
as well as collaborators in Taiwan, Brazil, Peru, Africa, Bangladesh,
Cambodia and Mexico. Through this prototype framework, earth, life
and social scientists are working together to broaden understanding
of Earth's complex systems, to enhance its sustainability.
Ji Mi Choi
of the Planet 2002 Conference
In the last part of
the 20th century, significant advances have been achieved
in fields of science such as climate forecasting, biotechnology,
water management, global carbon cycling, and ecosystem dynamics
that have profound salience to the lives of many of the world's
Yet, with August's
World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg approaching,
debate about the need for sustainable development initiatives and
the role that science might play in these efforts is growing. Living
conditions have not significantly improved in the developing world
and upwards of one third of all the world's people still live
in poverty. In May 2002 at Columbia University in New York, a major
international conference will bring together leading natural and
social scientists with policy analysts and decision-makers to debate
issues surrounding the science of sustainability at the State
of the Planet 2002 conference.
||State of the
Planet 2002: Science and Sustainability
University, Roone Arledge Auditorium, Lerner Hall
Broadway between 114th and 115th
Streets, New York City
||Monday, May 13
and Tuesday, May 14, 2002
in collaboration with London School of Economics and Political
Science, Harvard University, and UNESCO
"The issues at
stake are profound," according to Professor John Mutter, associate
vice provost, Columbia Earth Institute and chair of the conference
steering committee. "Can scientists and governments throughout
the world together find ways of balancing the needs of people and
the natural world? How can scientific and technological advances
contribute to sustaining all the world's population of 6.1
billion people and rising?" Participants, including international
leaders in science and policy, will debate the major social, economic,
political, and ethical challenges to sustainable development, focusing
on three pressing issues:
The world, both developed
and underdeveloped, is rapidly moving toward intense urbanization.
Most of the world's great cities lie in coastal zones and river
mouths vulnerable to climate extremes and other hazards. The intensity
of population concentrations coupled with fragile, exposed, and
older infrastructure make major cities highly vulnerable to natural
and human-induced disasters in a way that scientists and urban planners
are working to comprehend and mitigate. Additionally, the movement
of rural populations lured into cities by the expectations of advancement
has not relieved suffering and frequently exposes people to greater
risks. Urban centers often house the poor in unplanned regions with
scarce, polluted water, poor sanitation leading to disease, and
subject to landslides, flooding and other hazards.
- Urban Sustainability:
How can global cities such as New York, Shanghai, Sao Paulo, and
Rome reconcile human and environmental pressures?
The rate of species
loss on our planet due to human activities is staggering. Human
activity currently rivals or exceeds any natural force in ability
to suppress and destroy other species. Following the image of the
straw that broke the camel's back, there is concern that we
are approaching a critical threshold where further reductions in
biological diversity will cause dramatic and unpredictable changes
in the vital services provided to human society by natural ecosystems.
Some scientists argue that critical areas of abundant biodiversity
must be freed of any human influence and preserved even if it means
displacing humans from certain areas altogether. Others, including
a new cadre of environmental economists, argue that a strategic
alliance of mutual benefit can be struck between humans and natural
systems if the value of this alliance can only be properly assessed.
- Conservation of
Biological Resources: How can humans learn to become nature's
partner, without sacrificing basic needs, in order to preserve
their own future survival?
In today's world
of 6.1 billion people, one third live in poverty. In a world projected
to reach 9 billion people, perhaps 4 billion people will be poor
and half of them may be chronically hungry. Lack of access to adequate
food and clean water maintain large populations in desperate conditions,
draining meager national resources and preventing their advancement.
Food production is fundamentally related to climate conditions,
particularly in arid and tropical regions where most poor live.
But scientists have recently learned how to forecast climate conditions
in these regions, holding great hope for the improvement of food
security. Genetically engineered crops hold the potential to solve
some of the critical food shortages in the poorest countries, while
public protest over unanticipated harmful consequences of their
use is largely expressed in richer countries.
At the State of the
Planet 2002 conference, natural and social scientists together
with other global experts will consider the role of scientific and
technological advances in enhancing sustainability. Threaded throughout
these discussions, conference participants will consider a suite of
common concerns including global governance of scientific resources,
developing resilience to natural hazards, climate change, water security,
equity issues, as well as the role of indigenous knowledge and access
to the science and technology for the advancement of developing countries.
- Global Food Security:
How will the world adequately feed an expected 9 billion people
by the year 2050?
The Columbia Earth Institute
is a leader in Earth systems science teaching, research and the
application of Earth and social science for human needs. The Institute
is the outcome of Columbia University's commitment to enhance
understanding of global sustainability through the collaborative
work of physical, biological, and social scientists in cooperation
with an informed by and involved citizenry. For more information,