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Seminar 9

“Future of Planet Earth” Participant Statement

Paris, France | June 3–5, 2008

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Jayanta Bandyopadhyay

What are the three most critical challenges facing Planet Earth going forward?

Identification of three most critical challenges facing Planet Earth’s forward movement needs to be placed with the caveat that the challenges can be also of the nature of their being very crucial for smaller parts of the Planet Earth but spread extensively to deserve a planetary status. To address those challenges, initiatives are to be taken at equally large numbers of locations and situations. With this background, the three challenges that I find most critical are:

Information asymmetry among the various parts of human societies, especially those who have rights over new knowledge and those who are marginalized from having access to such knowledge or have no idea about its nature and extent, but are exposed to the products or risks associated with them. The challenge is to ensure the symmetry of such access to knowledge.

Dependence of human survival and economic growth on freshwater is inevitable. The rapid growth in water supplies and utilization has created the need for an allocative mechanism for freshwater. In most parts of Planet Earth no serious attention has been focused on the evolution of such a mechanism. This is sure to be an obstacle for the forward movement of Planet Earth.

Rapid advancements in bio-technology have frequently encouraged their early application in the hope of high economic returns, compromising bio-safety related trials and assessments. Precautionary principles have frequently been ignored keeping the planet’s living population exposed to unknown risks. Such fast-track applications of the advances in science and technology can obstruct human advancement in the future.

As Planet Earth moves forward well into the 21st century, knowledge would be the driving force. Access to sources of and property rights over knowledge would gain great significance in shaping the direction of such moves. The inherent contradiction of the situation is that those with access to knowledge and the participants in the wider use of them have very different places in the policy-making hierarchy. With such an asymmetry, the democratic and participatory functioning of human society will become very difficult and conflict prone. Often in the past decades, such inability of human societies to find a meeting ground for the diverse stakeholders led to common people’s movements against the use of specific technologies. In the industrially advanced countries, the instance of marketing and consumption of GM food items is an example. In the parts of the planet where industrial development is less, such conflicts emerge when economic development or corporate projects cause harm to uninformed communities, for example, the instance of nuclear waste transportation and disposal.

Many parts of the world are already faced with challenges in water management. Allocation of water to economically profitable activities competes with those for satisfying social needs of domestic supply and the environmental needs of the ecosystems. In the absence of a comprehensive approach to the management of water systems, the natural product that has been the backbone of all human civilizations in the past, will not be used in the widest human interest.

The forward march of human knowledge has created biotechnology. It has applications that can be driven by profit motives ignoring the due requirements of social safety. Bio-safety measures have not developed with due caution. As human knowledge grows, the measures and assessment for their use in Planet Earth could also grow. This step is kept incomplete very often, exposing living beings to enormous risks.

These are, accordingly and briefly, the three major challenges for the future Planet Earth in my opinion.