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Richardson's Recent Speech: Bridging the Global Science / Policy Gap: Communication and Advocacy Strategies for the 21st Century

 
Bridging the Global Science / Policy Gap
Communication and Advocacy Strategies for the 21st Century
Bill Richardson speech – JHU - SAIS Global Leaders Forum
 
First, let me thank the Global Leaders Forum of the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University for inviting me to speak on science and public policy. The Global Leaders Forum has become one of the most prestigious speaker series in the United States and I hope my remarks today will live up to the tradition of excellence that this forum has established.
 
You may ask: How did I first get involved in the science and technology debate?
 
When I was a young man, I dreamed about being drafted as a pitcher in Major League Baseball. In those days, the world seemed to move with a somewhat leisurely pace. As my hopes for a professional sports career faded, I entered the arena of politics and since they call it hardball, I'm still using lessons that I learned in sports. Yet today, we see startling events that take place at an accelerating pace, almost on a daily basis, and that is especially true about the advances of science and technology.
 
Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to work at the intersection of science and politics as Majority Whip in the US Congress, seeing first-hand the challenges that political and corporate leaders have as they try to incorporate the findings and conclusions of science into the policies, laws, and regulations of government and into the financial and economic business decisions.
 
Then, in my job as the US Ambassador to the United Nations, I became acquainted with scientific leaders from countries around the world and my interest in the UN as a leading force for good has never wavered. I was particularly appreciative of the Call to Action by Secretary General Ban Ki- moon, who urged new leaders and organizations to step forward to help close the growing gap between science and policy makers.
 
I am here today on behalf of a new organization: the International Council for Science and the Environment.
 
One NGO which has responded to the Secretary General’s call to Action is the National Council for Science and the Environment, a not-for-profit organization that has mobilized many communities here in the U.S. to improve the scientific basis for environmental decisions. The NCSE has hundreds of member universities, energy institutes, and community colleges; and engages federal agencies, state and local government; businesses and conservation organizations. Together they develop science-based solutions to the many environmental challenges facing our country.
 
Confronted by so much “flat-earth” thinking by people whose names I don’t need to mention to this audience, the work of the Council and others like-minded groups is essential.
 
But, working within the United States is not enough.
 
Recognizing the global nature of the challenge, the NCSE Board of Directors asked me to serve as the Chairman of the newly created International Council for Science and the Environment, known as ICSE or “icey”.
 
I gladly accepted, primarily because I am deeply concerned about the growing gap between the world of science and technology on the one hand and the world of government and business decision makers on the other hand. By the way, we are fortunate to have our Executive Director, Dr. Peter Saundry, here today, so let me take this public opportunity to thank him for his commitment to this cause and his determination to bring in the voices of the international scientific community.
 
Over half of all scientific research in the US is being performed by academicians and scientists at universities. That is why the International Council for Science and the Environment will be organizing universities around the world to help us engage in bridging this ominous gap. The scientists in these universities need to help us prioritize and educate Parliaments and Presidents as well as business executives and financial leaders. We will be holding our first international conference in January where we intend to enlist representatives at the highest levels of government and business to hear the hopes and concerns of scientists and academicians.
 
We already have an exemplary Board of Advisors who will help us focus on development of communication strategies that will help us create the future we want. We will work in close coordination with the Academies of Sciences, the International Council for Scientific Unions, IUCN, the World Resources Institute, and other organizations.
 
In my tenure as the Secretary of Energy, I had an opportunity to work with many of the outstanding scientists in our National Laboratories and, now as Chairman of the ICSE, I hope to find ways to coordinate the work of the ICSE in communicating the need for financial and public support for basic research and development.
 
The ICSE does not intend to duplicate the fine work being done in research and development, nor prepare the peer reviewed studies upon which sound decisions can be made. Instead, we will focus on communicating these ideas and removing the barriers to understanding. This task is difficult and never- ending. Even today, while we are still in the infancy of scientific advances and technological development, we see US Senators who do not believe in climate change despite the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community.
 
The fact that influential political leaders only a few miles from here, have substituted the work of entertaining fiction writers like Michael Crichton for the results of tens of thousands of practicing scientists, gives me, and I hope you, great motivation for ICSE and the work that we must carry out.
 
Some of this ideology of ignorance springs from self-interest and campaign contributions from those industries that profit from and depend on fossil fuels. As Upton Sinclair observed “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”
 
But other so-called “skeptics” simply don’t understand the science of climate change, or the scientific process of independent testing and verification, not just once but again and again and again. Science has been called “the shrewdest maneuver for discovering how the world works.” I agree with that; and, that is why the ICSE intends to focus its initial effort on preparing more effective communication approaches on the impacts of climate change and the solutions that are at hand today.
 
The ICSE will work with our colleagues in universities and think tanks to wrestle with this new reality and come up with practical ways to convey the conclusions and implications of scientific research and technological breakthroughs. We invite the larger global community to help us in developing these strategies in the months and years to come.
 
Once a large enough number of the public in any country understands the nature and consequences of climate change, and the solutions that are already at hard, political opposition to progress will decline and we will do what is necessary. This is particularly true here in the United States. We much push solutions and we must communicate solutions.
 
Remember, it is not a matter of if we respond, it is only a matter of when. Climate change is real, the consequences are real, and getting more significant, more deadly every day. I hope, I pray, that the consequences do not have to become catastrophic before we get serious about deploying the solutions that we have already at our finger tips.
 
My ICSE Chairmanship fits into a much larger context of societal change.
 
As I have reflected over the last several Presidential elections, it is clear that much of the debate has revolved around the respective roles of government and the private sector. While efforts to delineate the appropriate relationship between government and the private sector have surged in recent years, the debate and discussions are as old as the Republic.
 
When I was running for President in 2008, I saw up close and personal the various ways each candidate tried to resolve the balance between these two forces within our society. For example, Democrats were largely united behind the idea that government should provide health insurance to 30 million people who lacked such services, while the Republicans argued that the private sector should handle these deficiencies.
 
On issue after issue, from abortion to same sex marriage, from social security and medicare reform to tax policy, from ecological systems to energy subsidies, the political debate continues to pivot on the question of the balance between these two vital dimensions of our society. These debates on the appropriate balance between government and the private sector are occurring throughout the world, leaning one way or the other as countries try to meet the needs of their people.
 
I believe the outcome of these debates will determine whether we make genuine progress, economically, socially, and environmentally. Yet we must be clear: the underlying, driving power that will transform both government and the private sector is the extraordinary and unparalleled rise of science and technology.
 
As an American society and as a global civilization, we have seen the manifold instances where scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs have almost instantaneously changed our lives, yet decision makers in government and the private sector have not come to grips with the ever-accelerating trend lines that promise to reshape every aspect of our lives.
 
The key challenge of the 21st century will be recognizing and navigating these waves of change, which will continue to grow larger, more frequent, and more turbulent with every passing year.
 
The benefits of this 21st century scientific revolution will be celebrated as the potential to improve the human condition and the health of our ecosystems will be unprecedented, but these benefits will only accrue in the ways we want if we develop strategies to avoid the risks and threats that such a revolution will bring.
 
Just consider: every detail and dimension of our lives will be irrevocably changed.
 
The nations of the world are being organized by the UN to prioritize the most important Sustainable Development Goals for the post 2015 world. While these goals will deal with pressing problems that affect the health and livelihoods of people, especially the poorest, it is of paramount importance to recognize that none of the Goals will be met if the great ecological life support systems of the planet are adversely affected by bad technology choices. The World Resources Institute has done a superb job of addressing the vast importance of free ecological services. We cannot make progress on the human condition unless we protect and restore our forests, soils, fresh water, oceans, air and climate.
 
Fortunately, the IUCN has undertaken to develop low carbon development strategies for approximately 30 rainforest countries. Former President Jagdeo of Guyana is taking a leading role to develop these strategies, which will include protecting and restoring forests to sequester carbon, save biodiversity, and regulate the hydrological cycles, generating new sources of clean energy and creating new green jobs, and promoting the transition to evergreen agriculture.
 
The amount of carbon that can be sequestered in forests and landscapes is bigger than the emissions from the entire transport sector, so it an important way to buy time for the innovations in the future that will take us away from our reliance on fossil fuels.
 
A big and important change has also taken place in our cities. Recently, it was reported that most of the people in the world now live in cities and the trend for the coming decades clearly shows that more people will move to the small cities, making them large ones almost overnight, and then to the megacities, making them larger than most countries.
 
The UN and World Green Building Councils have taken a lead in making the built environment more energy efficient, both by retrofitting old buildings and raising standards and codes for new buildings. If we are to live up to the challenge of the Secretary General of the UN, we will need to double the rate of growth in energy efficiency, which will necessarily revolve around an urban agenda. I know that my friend, Dr. Jhirad, has been working on a new model for financing that will incorporate the trillions of dollars of the sovereign wealth funds into new layered financing that will involve both the public and private sector.
 
The danger of climate change has already imperiled the viability of all of the earth's ecosystems. The seas are becoming more warmer and more acidic, while rising sea levels have their own impacts such as higher storm surges that overtop levees and flood cities.
 
New efforts are underway to use geospatial technologies and other sensor devices to measure so- called “blue carbon,” the reefs, sea grasses, and mangrove trees, can be helpful in preserving the resources of the sea and offer ways to save the barriers that protect the coastlines. NOAA, the UNEP, the World Bank, the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi, and the Norwegian NGO, GRID Arendal are forming a new partnership to protect coastlines and help to save the sea plants that can sequester carbon.
 
These efforts to maximize our efforts to sequester greenhouse gases and promote energy efficiency need to be fortified by new breakthrough technologies for clean energy. Today, US investment in energy innovation is less than 5% of federal spending on defense research and demonstration. We need to challenge all the countries with significant research budgets to agree to raise their investments in breakthrough technologies for renewable energy.
 
I intend to contact the leader of the IPCC to see if a new international effort could be undertaken to arrive at some percentage of research budgets globally could be focused on the breakthrough technologies that will allow us to dramatically reduce the costs of renewable energy while expanding its share of global energy use.
 
Today, fossil fuels still provide 87% of the planet's energy and the new technology to obtain natural gas through fracking will translate into continued reliance on fuels.  While the switching from coal to natural gas can reduce carbon emission in the near term, it does not address the core challenge of “decarbonizing” our energy supply.
 
We have seen how new technologies can be enormously helpful in reducing the amount of damage that climate change could wreak. As bad as the impact of the hurricane Sandy was on the northeastern part of our country, it would have been significantly worse if the weather satellites and weather predicting models had not given us an early warning. The four days of warning given to New York and New Jersey by the hurricane scientists at NOAA saved lives, a lot of lives. That was the great untold story of Superstorm Sandy and it demonstrates clearly how environmental scientists can do do save lives.
 
If we are to build an agenda of resilience, scientists will be on the front line of defense against the disasters of the future. The choice of technological paths will play a vital role in what kind of a world we create. We need to encourage the scientific enterprise in every way that we can, for it will be the governmental and private sector scientists and academicians, working in laboratories, universities, institutes who have the potential to help us build the future we want.
 
The central reality of our times is that we are living in an age of exponential change.
 
Although we are entering an era of unimagined change, we are still consumed by the political landscape of the past. We are not prepared for the revolution in values that is about to hit us like some new force of nature, like an all- consuming, ongoing tsunami. Look how quickly computers and cell phones have spread to every corner of the world. Even desperately poor people are finding a way to get them and use them. This kind of swift uptake of new technologies is indicative of how the world can be transformed almost overnight.
 
The great Harvard scientist and writer Ed Wilson has a great way of describing this challenge. He says” “The real problem of humanity is the following: we have paleolithic emotions; medieval institutions; and god-like technology. And it is terrifically dangerous, and it is now approaching a point of crisis overall.”
 
Government has a major hand in spurring exponential change.
 
When Intelsat was created by the Kennedy Administration as a response to the launch of Sputnik by the Russians, the political establishment could not have predicted the overarching potentiality of the satellite communication age. While the world was
absorbed in the shot to the moon, the satellite communication system began its inevitable climb to ever higher levels of capability. With the rise of integrated chips and computers, the technologies were interacting in ways that were not foreseen and they permeated society at record speeds.
 
When the US government funded the Defense Advanced Research Project, little did they know that it would eventually lead to the creation of the Internet, email, cell phones, computer graphics, weather satellites, fuel cells, lasers, night vision, and the Saturn V rocket that would take the first man to the moon. The commercialization of that communication technology has fundamentally changed society. In fact, that is why I asked my friend, Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and now Executive Chairman of Google to go with me to North Korea.
 
I hoped that the regime would be more likely to join in the common pursuits of the community of nations if it were open to such communication technologies. The complicated interaction between open communications and the behavior of various regimes around the world, such as the Arab Spring countries, will be debated and analyzed, but I think it will be conceded in general that instant communication through messages and photos leavens the political processes and seeds the future with new ideas and initiatives.
 
Changes in education are also spurring exponential growth.
 
The reinvention of the universities is also underway, as on- line courses are beginning to attract millions of students from around the world. The number of young people, globally, who want and need an education far exceeds the number of students who can afford to go to the existing system of universities.  It is inevitable we will see a wave of enrollment online education that will eventually dwarf the numbers of students in traditional bricks-and-mortar universities and colleges today.
 
What will be the impact of educating tens of millions of young people and how can that be managed to promote peace, justice, and better livelihoods?
 
What we see time and time again is that transformational change is occurring, often before we have thought about its implications or prepared for its wide range of potential impacts.
 
Finally, private enterprise has also spurred exponential growth
A wonderful example of the private enterprise system taking chances and daring greatly is the new space endeavor of pioneers like Richard Branson. When he came to New Mexico and suggested a public- private partnership for privately funded space travel, I accepted immediately. I understood the potential for ridicule from those who thought the idea was too far out and maybe even impossible to accomplish. But, as Governor of New Mexico, I believed that space still represents the new frontier that President John Kennedy envisioned when he took a chance and announced that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.
 
Our world needs the inspiration of great endeavors and it needs the spirit of adventure of our great entrepreneurs. A new day in space policy has been inaugurated and we need to think about the contributions that such a new vision will make to a better understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe.
 
You may recall, it was Carl Sagan who first used his books and television show to tell the public that every living thing on earth is connected to the skies above, that we are literally, star stuff, and that we are all connected to each other. Space has many more secrets that science will one day reveal.
 
As Einstein said:” The more knowledge we acquire, the more mystery we find.”
 
As a global civilization, we are unprepared and lack strategies to adapt.
 
Science and technology are changing the realities of our lives in ways so fast and so powerfully that government and the capitalist system of private enterprise have not kept pace.
 
In a boxing match, they say that the punch that knocks you out is the one that you don't see coming. Well, the task of decision makers is to be prepared, to be informed, to set forth thoughtful policies that can effectively channel these revolutionary technologies.
 
Yet there is a growing gap between the scientific and technological discoveries that are shaping our future in the 21st century and the decision makers in the world of politics and business. And it is getting much, much worse.
 
The issues themselves have become more complex.
 
As I speak today, for example, the Supreme Court is wrestling with whether isolated human genes are products of nature, and therefore ineligible for patents, or are sufficiently different from the genes found inside the body to make them patentable. The stakes are high. The Justices are struggling to understand the nuances of patent law, the rights of the public to their own genetic heritage, and billion dollar investments in research for genetic tests and, by extension, biotech drugs, DNA- based vaccines and genetically engineered crops.
 
The Justices openly stated that they were having a hard time understanding the science and technology that was at the heart of the case. They looked for analogies that dealt with baseball bats being carved from trees, flour and other ingredients for cookies, and other analogies to get a handle on the complex dimension of the case. In this regard, it would be wise to remember the words of H. L. Mencken who said:” For every complex problem, there's an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
 
This problem is symptomatic. Expect it to be repeated endlessly not just in the courts, but in the halls of parliaments and executive branches around the world, in the boardrooms of corporations, and in the various decision-making sectors of society.
 
There are a variety of reasons. First, the conclusion of scientists may not be politically popular with a Senator or corporate CEO. There are those in the Senate today who have denied the validity of the science behind climate change. Of course, sometimes such a denial is intended to curry favor with big monied interests who may be important in their elections. We have even seen Presidential candidates who were unwilling to say that they trusted the theory of evolution.
 
There are school districts who want to forbid the teaching of evolution because they say it is at odds with their religious teaching. The causes of denial are most difficult when a fair minded discussion is ruled out and assertions take the place of reason and logic.
 
The credibility of the scientific community is of the utmost concern, for it is their studies and conclusions that form the engine of our civilization. For hundreds of years, great scientists have had to overcome the forces of superstition and ignorance. However, it is particularly sad when ideologues who should know better carry the cudgels of opposition based on the selfish demands of their own narrow political interest to raise money for their next election. Maintaining a livable planet where the climate is stabilized and the great ecological life support systems are protected should not be put in jeopardy for any political reason. There is never an excuse.
 
Of course, the bulk of my concerns deals with the difficulties that are presented by the myriad of issues that arise from the complex, adaptive, nonlinear systems that are increasingly a sign of our age. It does not help that specialization in the scientific enterprise has led to fewer scientists who can comment on the integrated nature of many cross disciplinary questions. This trend will continue to steepen the learning curve.
 
I intend that the International Council for Science and Environment will play a useful leadership role, but every organization and university and think tank will need to find new and better ways to convey these complex matters so the decisions will reflect sound scientific principles.
 
Let me conclude with a series of ten initial recommendations.
 
First, we need to elevate the Office of Science and Technology Policy to a Cabinet level position. The current Science Advisor to President Obama, John Holdren, has done an exemplary job, trusted by the President and Cabinet Members, the science community, and academicians and educators.
 
He is the best Science Advisor in history, but my recommendation that he be accorded Cabinet status is not based on his ability alone, nor his current access to the President and his Cabinet. As a country, we need to demonstrate in no uncertain language that science and technology are driving this economy, our competitive position in the world, and our hopes for the future.
 
Second, we need to invest a far bigger percentage of our national budget into research in the fields of renewable energy and energy efficiency so that we can achieve the technological breakthroughs that will be necessary to meet the challenge of climate change.
 
Third, we need to encourage other countries with large budgets for Research and Development to significantly raise their investments in breakthrough technologies for renewable energy and energy efficiency, especially if we are to achieve the Secretary General's Goal of Sustainable Energy for All.
 
Fourth, we need to develop micro and mini grids to extend power to the 1.3 billion people who have no electricity whatsoever. I am proud to say that our host, Dr. Jhirad, has one of the best models to achieve this objective that has been set forth by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
 
Fifth, we need to find new financing opportunities for urban green and sustainable infrastructure, especially by accessing the trillions of dollars that reside in the Sovereign Wealth Funds that have recently been established. We already have a financial model from the Gulf States region called the Arab Financing Facility for Infrastructure. Again, Dr. Jhirad, I know that you have been leading such an effort with the Rockefeller Foundation ever since the UN Conference in Copenhagen and I wish you success.
 
Sixth, we need to restore some institutional model that can work with Congress that provides technology assessments, and it must be trusted and nonpolitical. Many of you will remember the Office of Technology Assessment that was the victim of a political wave that swept over the Congress in 1995.
 
Seventh, we need to support the efforts of NGOs like the US Green Building Council and ICLEI who are leading a new Resilience Movement and creating indicators and parameters for climate resilience in the built environment. The rise of cities in population and influence makes this a powerful part of a new dynamic for climate progress.
 
Eighth, we need to take advantage of the recent advances in Geographic Information Systems to better plan, measure, and monitor our natural and man- made resources.
 
My last two recommendations are cross-cutting and apply to all of my recommendations.
 
Ninth, we need to seek better ways to organize the scientific expertise that exists in universities and laboratories and institutes, improving the scientific basis for environmental decision-making and orchestrating a quantum leap in communication and advocacy strategies with policy makers in government and business.
 
Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, we need to cast our fate with science, bravely set our sails into the future, and, aware of the dangers, but filled with optimism, boldly search for truth and knowledge, wherever it may lead.
 
Thank you.

 

 

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