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Seminar 9

“Future of Planet Earth” Participant Statement

Paris, France | June 3–5, 2008

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Molly K. Macauley

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

Mankind has weathered many difficulties, be they war, resource scarcity, economic plight, or plagues.

The most critical challenge going forward is ensuring human creativity, ingenuity, and capacity to innovate and to respond to risk of all kinds (political, economic, technical, environmental). Capacity to innovate requires the provision of incentives to think and to pursue imaginatively without fear of censorship and without fear of failure. Capacity may be enhanced by culture, education, and experience, and, in many cases, is spurred by needs or wants in the face of threats or scarcity.

Another element going forward is information. Perhaps one of the most interesting venues for information collection is the vantage point of space. From space, satellites observing Earth provide information about our relationship to the environment, to natural resources, and to each other. Space-derived Earth information is a relatively new means of seeing ourselves. Use of space for other purposes is increasingly embraced by an ever-larger number of countries. Space is also a domain in which “cosmic” questions such as “Are we alone?” “Where did we come from?” and “What is humankind’s place in the cosmos?” can be asked and answers can be pursued. Space has been, and will continue to be, a place for competition in the demonstration of national technical prowess, and competition can be good in that it can spur creativity. Space is also a place for cooperation, in collaboration in science and technology, and cooperation can also be good in that it can enhance creativity by the sharing of ideas.

To be sure, war, poverty, environmental distress, public health, and gross infringement of rights and liberties loom large in the future, as they have in the past. Solutions may not be possible and certainly aren’t easy. But without creativity and ingenuity, and without information, moving forward on any of these fronts will be slow at best.
For these reasons, then, I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity and honor to participate in our discussion of “Future of Planet Earth.”