Seize the century, former White House advisor tells scientists
When President Clinton was looking for possible Cabinet members and other advisors, at least one of those choices was effortless.
John "Jack" Gibbons, who became the assistant to the president for science and technology from 1993-98, "was one of the earliest—and easiest—nominations of the Clinton administration," Al Gore wrote in the forward to Gibbons' book, "This Gifted Age: Science and Technology at the Millennium."
In the latest of the Jerome B. Wiesner Science, Technology and Policy Lecture Series, Gibbons spoke at U-M March 24 in a speech that touched on energy, climate change, population growth and dematerialization. He noted that public policy makers must consider the long-range effects of their decisions related to science and technology.
"A sense of the future is behind all good politics," he said, noting that massive changes are needed in these areas during this century.
In regard to energy sources, he said the world could be moving toward a hydrogen economy and away from a system based on fossil fuels. "We could make hydrogen from a great variety of sources," he said, while also pointing out how expensive it is to protect the world's oil supplies.
Gibbons showed maps of southern Louisiana and Florida to illustrate the impact of climate change on coastal areas. Because of rising sea levels and other climate-related changes, those areas could change dramatically in coming years, Gibbons said.
"You'd better take your vacation in Key West pretty soon," he said, "because it's going to be underwater."
Gibbons also criticized President Bush's rejection of the Kyoto accord, which would require the United States to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases substantially by 2012.
Gibbons showed several charts illustrating the growth of populations in various countries. One documented the steady population growth in Saudi Arabia and the decline of the per capita income in that country during the same period. Another showed the projected population structure of Botswana in two different ways, with and without AIDS factored into the model. That graphic showed the devastation AIDS will cause in the younger population of the country.
He also discussed dematerialization, the use of fewer raw materials and, as a result, fewer residuals.
The scientific community and others face the challenge of moving toward global sustainability in this century, he said.
"Carpe saeculum—seize the century," he said. "We cannot wait for another century or half century."
The speech in the Michigan League was sponsored by the Office of the Provost and Office of the Vice President for Research, and co-sponsored by the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE).
Since leaving government in 1998, Gibbons has served as Compton Lecturer at MIT, senior fellow at the National Academy of Engineering, and president of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. He serves on a number of boards and committees in the public and private sectors, and he is the author of about 100 publications.