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Seminar 9

“Future of Planet Earth” Participant Statement

Paris, France | June 3–5, 2008

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John R. Delaney

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

1. The ocean is the “flywheel” of climatic stability. Humans live on the continents. We experience the atmosphere directly. But the ocean basins occupy 70% of the planetary surface. They are largely a mystery. They are poorly explored and very poorly understood. And we do not understand the timing, nor the consequences, of major, energetic perturbations that take place within the oceanic realm, like giant storms, major earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and phytoplankton blooms. The first critical challenge is to understand the ocean, because it dominates the planetary environment in both direct and indirect ways.

2. The second major challenge is to stabilize the population of the planet at a sustainable level. This is a well-recognized issue. There are many questions, many problems, few solutions, and no easy answers. Not the least of the issues is simply one of definitions: What is sustainable? At what lifestyle? Philosophical issues abound and will be a focus for political conflict for generations, possibly millennia … if we are lucky.

3. The third major challenge may be stated very simply: we must learn to manage the entire planet as if it were our only support system and we were on a millennial space voyage – which it is, and which we are. This will require a tremendous amount of research and cooperation to achieve. And it brings us back to the first point above: there is no chance we can learn to manage the planet unless we can understand and predict how the oceans work. The ocean environment will be for the 21st century what physics was to the 20th century. We are presently in the century of Planet Ocean.