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"SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND THE STATE OF THE WORLD:
Some Reflections After September 11"
It is a great honor for me to be asked to give the Joseph Rotblat
Lecture on Science and Social Responsibility. Joe influenced my
own trajectory quite drastically in 1973, starting in 1973, when
I got off a plane in Helsinki, Finland to go to my first Pugwash
conference. I had no idea how or why I had been invited but it
was an invitation one didn't refuse. I had submitted a paper on
the links between nuclear energy and the proliferation of nuclear
weapons and I got off the airplane and Joe Rotblat was waiting
for me at the gate.
He had never met me before but it turned out he was on a mission.
He had had a co-convener of the working group on nuclear nonproliferation
become ill at the last minute. He needed to find a substitute
and co-convener. He had thought my paper was pretty good and so
he had the idea that he would recruit me to this task and as I
came through the gate he looked at me. I was not yet 30, I probably
looked 19, and this look of shock came over the distinguished
Professor Rotblat's face. He was at that time a young 64. He is
almost 93. He recovered from the shock and he said, "Holdren,
I have a job for you", and he assigned me to be the co-convener
of that working group and from that point on I was trapped. He
had a job for me for most of the next 28 years and in some sense
he still has a job for me tonight because it was the "Rotblat"
on this lecture, combined with my long affection for Student Pugwash
[USA], that made it irresistible to say, yes.
But I also had been influenced even earlier in my life by another
one of the pioneers of Pugwash who was Harrison Brown, a geochemist
who had worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II. He
was the head of chemistry at Oakridge [Laboratory] at the age
of 23. He wrote a book, actually right at the end of World War
II, he started writing it in 1945. It was published in 1946. It
was called Must Destruction Be Our Destiny and it laid out the
whole course of a nuclear arms race in 1946, published in January
or February of 1946.
He predicted that the United States and the Soviet Union would
build fleets of thousands of ballistic missiles carrying nuclear
warheads. He predicted that there would be periodic surges of
interests in ballistic missile defense, that always it would conclude
when it was re-examined that there was no adequate defense, that
defense was a hopeless proposition, that the lesson of all of
this was that the only answer to nuclear weapons was international
cooperation to constrain their use. There was no possibility of
unilateral effective defense against nuclear weapons. This guy
figured that out in 1945.
The book that I first read of Harrison Brown's was called The
Challenge of Man's Future. I read it in 1958 as a sophomore in
high school. He had published it in 1954, and in that book, Harrison
Brown laid out a remarkable argument encapsulated in a way in
this quote from the book to the effect that the problems of the
growth of the human population, the problem of economic development,
the adequacy of resources, the problems of the environment, the
difficulties of education, and the problems of avoiding war, the
problems of international security -- were all intimately intertwined.
He made the argument that those problems could not be understood,
let alone solved, without an interdisciplinary approach. You needed
to think about it from the scientific standpoint, the engineering
standpoint, the economic standpoint, the political standpoint,
the social standpoint, and put it all together and for a geochemist
he did a remarkable job of weaving it all together in that book.
I was so impressed by that book as a sophomore in high school
that it changed what I wanted to do with my life.
Prior to that my life's ambition was to become the Chief Design
Engineer at Boeing and I abandoned that aim and was persuaded
by that book and another book I read a year or so later, C.P.
Snow's book, The Two Cultures. [I decided] that what I wanted
to do was work on the great problems of the human condition that
sit at the intersection of disciplines, the intersection of the
natural sciences and the social sciences where science, technology,
and public policy come together. That is why I wanted to talk
tonight on a broad theme, the theme of science, technology, and
the state of the world, some reflections after September 11th.
I want to do that.
I want to talk about that big theme in the way that I think Joe
Rotblat would talk about it with you if he were standing here
tonight in my place, or the way Harrison Brown would talk about
it if he were alive to do so. Harrison Brown passed away in 1986.
What I am going to do, therefore, is talk about these issues first
in terms of what either was clear or should have been clear about
the interaction between science, technology, and the state of
the world before September 11th.
And then I am going to talk second in terms of what has become
even clearer since September 11th, and I say even clearer because
I think that in a way it is the clarity of our understanding of
many of the aspects of this problem that have changed the most,
not so much the realities, but the clarity of our understanding
And finally I am going to talk in terms of what socially responsible
scientists and technologists should be striving to contribute
to these issues, not just the issues in the aftermath of September
11th but the still wider ones at this immensely important intersection
of science and technology and the human condition.
So let me start with some things that were clear, I believe, before
September 11th about the state of the world and the relation of
science and technology to that. I like to talk, as again, Harrison
Brown would have, about the state of the world in terms of the
enduring afflictions of the human condition. What troubles humanity
the most and I list five of those enduring afflictions here.
The first one, the persistence of poverty where it has always
existed and the erosion of prosperity even where there has been
wealth. That clearly is one of the enduring afflictions of the
Secondly, the impoverishment of the environment and by that I
mean not just pollution, not just dirty air and water, not beer
cans in the places where rich people like to hike, but a much
broader pattern of erosion of environmental conditions and processes
through a broad array of assaults on forests, on estuaries, on
coral reefs, on the oceans themselves, on the atmosphere, on the
forces that govern the climate that threaten to undermine the
flow of environmental goods and services which are no less important
to the human condition than the flow of economic goods and services
which get so much more attention.
Third, the oppression of human rights in all of its forms - racism,
the oppression of women, the denial of participation of people
in the decisions that determine their prospects for realizing
their aspirations, the pervasiveness of violent conflict which
arises in part out of the preceding items on the list but also
for other reasons that all of you could enumerate as well as I.
What Joe Rotblat often points out is that this particular item
is that pervasiveness is underlined by the realization that there
have been tens of millions of people killed in violent conflict
in the second half of the 20th Century, a half century which we
tended to regard as relatively peaceful compared to the first
half. And finally the wastage of human potential that arises from,
and is aggravated by, all of those other categories.
Let me underline these propositions with a few magnitudes. I often
say the numbers are not everything but they are something and
we need to look at them from time to time. The per capita standard
of living at the poorest two billion people in the year 2000 was
about a 20th, a 20th of the per capita standard of living of the
richest billion. The poorest two billion were living at the equivalent
of three US dollars a day. That is after correction for purchasing
power parity. You often hear one dollar a day. I have given the
benefit to purchasing power parity conversion which claim that
market exchange rates somewhat overstate poverty so they get the
magnificent sum of three dollars and one-half per person per day
in real purchasing power.
The rate of species extinction is between 100 and 10,000 times
the rate prior to major human influence. If current trends continue,
a third of the species in tropical forests will be lost over the
next few decades. Fifteen of the 16 warmest years in the last
140 have occurred since 1980, the eight warmest since 1990. Global
warming is happening, and fossil fuel burning which is the principal
source of the greenhouse gas increases in the atmosphere is still
supplying today nearly 80 percent of civilization's energy.
This is going to be a hard problem to fix. The number of people
that will be added to the world's population by 2050, the middle
of the century we are now in, under the median projection of the
United Nation, will be more than the total world population was
in 1950 and the increase in world energy use between now and then
under business as usual, if nothing changes very drastically,
will be twice as great. The increase will be twice as great as
the total amount of energy we are using in the world today.
And finally the global stockpile of nuclear weapons, notwithstanding
all that you have heard about the end of the Cold War and the
reductions of nuclear weapons after the Cold War, has been about
a factor of two, roughly, from the Cold War peak. [This] means
there are still more than 30,000 nuclear weapons in the world,
4,000 of them in the United States and Russia unaccountably, inexplicably
remaining on high alert. The stockpiles of additional nuclear
explosive materials in Russia alone mostly still inadequately
protected are enough nuclear material to make another 50,000 nuclear
Continuing with what was clear before September 11th, I think
it is important to talk about the underlying factors, the contributing
factors that have made these afflictions that I am talking about
so enduring. One has been the size that the world population has
achieved and the growth rates that continue. [Growth rates] are
declining, but they are not declining fast enough in terms of
the stresses that coping with this growing population places on
our capacity to deal with all of the other problems, and particularly
in combination with the very high levels of material consumption
in the industrialized part of the world.
The misuse and ineffective use of science and technology, some
sins of omission, deliberate misuse, ineffective use, non-use
of the potential of science and technology to address the central
problems of the human condition, the mal-distribution of consumption
and investment. That mal-distribution takes a number of forms
- too much consumption in the North, too little in the South;
too much investment in military activities, too little in civilian
ones; too much consumption, too little investment; all kinds of
mal-distribution in this category.
Mismanagement and corruption, which is pervasive in developing
and industrialized countries alike. Misunderstanding of the implications
of change. Most people do not think through where we are heading,
what it will be like when we get there, whether or not we really
want to go there. Inattention to interconnections among these
problems; all of the problems I have listed, as Harrison Brown
argued already in 1954, are intertwined in complicated ways and
if we do not think about those interconnections we will not be
able to get our arms around the problem or its solutions.
Unilateralism and non-cooperation: there is still a belief, and
we will talk about that a little more later, that if a country
is rich enough and powerful enough it can solve its own problems
and make itself safe in the world, that unilateralism will work.
It is not true. Powerlessness of the victims is an underlying
factor. So often the people who suffer the most are those least
able to react in ways that enable them to improve their condition.
Again a few numerical examples, which I call some shortfalls in
the policy domain. What are the richest countries in the world
doing to help the poorest countries in the world? The official
development assistance dispensed by the United States in 1998
amounted to $8.8 billion, about one-tenth of a percent of US GNP
and half a percent of the federal budget. When you ask members
of the American public how much we're spending on what they still
call foreign aid, the typical member of the public thinks it is
15 percent of the federal budget. And then you ask them, and they
say, of course, that is too much, we should not be spending 15
percent of the federal budget, and you ask them how much should
we be spending, they say, about five percent.
So what the public thinks we should be spending is still ten times
more than [what] we actually are. In the United States, which
accounts for a quarter of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide
and fossil fuel burning, we have been reducing our investments
in research and development to provide lower emitting energy technologies,
fourfold in real terms over the last 20 years decline in investments
in energy [research and development] Rx. Private sector investments
in energy Rx have also been shrinking over this period and eight
years after the Rio conference and three years after Kyoto the
United States has no significant incentives in place to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions.
I have already mentioned ten years after the end of the Cold War,
30,000 nuclear weapons still [are] in place in the United States
and Russia, 2,000 on each side in hair-trigger alert. The nuclear
weapon policies of both countries allow first use of nuclear weapons
against non-nuclear threats.
I believe it was already clear, or should have been clear, before
September 11th what we needed to do, what we needed to be aiming
at to make a better world, a more sensible world than the one
in which we now live and I'll talk about what we should have understood
before September 11th. [I will talk about what] we needed to be
aiming at in four categories3⁄4security, politics, economy,
The first two here, with respect to security, we must aim to constrain,
and finally to prohibit and eliminate, all of the weapons of mass
destruction, nuclear, biological, and chemical. If we do not eliminate
them, they will ultimately eliminate us. We need to build up the
multilateral capacities for armed intervention and peacekeeping
because unilateral intervention for peacekeeping is increasingly
problematic for reasons that are apparent everyday. We need to
focus unilateral capabilities on self-defense, not on intervention.
Politics, we need to promote self-determination, the rule of law,
protection of human rights, [and] public participation in governance.
We need to improve the match of the scale and character of our
institutions to the character and scale of the problems that those
institutions are supposed to solve. It is often said by political
scientists that the nation state is too large a political unit
to solve most problems and too small a unit to solve the others.
We need a better match. Nation states are the right size for solving
some problems but for many of the problems we are talking about
tonight, again, one cannot succeed without multilateral efforts.
And for other problems, one can address them appropriately only
at local or regional scales.
Economics, we need to reduce economic disparities both within
and between countries. We need to internalize the environmental
and social costs of consumption. In part, to be able to deal with
the consequences of globalization which otherwise can be a disaster
for workers and a disaster for the environment.
Environmentally, we need to aim to provide clean water and sanitization
for everybody by 2015. It is a disgrace that with the technological
capabilities at our disposal there are still roughly a billion
people in the world with no access to clean water or sanitation.
We need to learn to meet rural household energy needs while sharply
reducing indoor smoke3⁄4that is the biggest air pollution
problem in the world3⁄4differentially affecting women and
children. We need to learn to meet urban industrial energy needs
while sharply reducing emissions of oxides, of nitrogen oxides,
of sulfur, fine particulates and greenhouse gases. We need to
put farming, and forestry, and fisheries on a sustainable basis
preserving biodiversity and we need to aim to stabilize population
worldwide below eight billion by 2100; if we go much beyond, that
no matter what we do in the other categories it's not likely to
Let us turn now to what is clearer after September 11th. It is
clearer now or should be clearer that the threats to US security
in the post-Cold War are more diverse and not necessarily smaller
than they were during the Cold War. The old threats of war between
the major powers, including nuclear war, have diminished but they
have not disappeared, including in part because of the potential
for massive war by mistake or inadvertence out of those 4,000
nuclear weapons still in high levels of alert. And the new threats
entail not only regional and intrastate conflicts in which the
United States may become involved but also obviously spillovers
from those involvements in which aggrieved parties attack the
United States with stealth and with terrorism.
The second thing that should be clearer is that our massive and
sophisticated military power is of limited utility against terrorists.
Terrorists are hard to identify. They are harder to find and they
are harder still to target and destroy without large losses of
innocent life. And, of course, those large losses of innocent
life only feed the rage in the sense of powerlessness in suffering
populations, which spawns more terrorists. It should be clearer
now that what many supposed was a self-imposed constraint on the
amount of destruction terrorists were trying to cause appears
to have been removed.
Terrorists clearly have mastered the equivalent of judo - turning
the strengths of industrial society against it - jumbo jets as
missiles, skyscrapers as concentrated targets, the mail system
to distribute biological agents, 24-hour-per-day TV news to propagate
fear. They have not yet done or even tried all that they could.
I am not going to go through the recitation of all of the vulnerabilities
of our society that have not yet been exploited. You can probably
all make your own list but it's not a pleasing prospect.
The biggest dangers may yet come from the interaction of the old
security risks and the new, in the form of the leakage of weapons
of mass destruction for materials and expertise to make them,
from the war machines of nations into the hands of terrorists.
These dangers could dwarf even those that horrified us all on
September 11th. A one-kiloton nuclear missile, a badly designed
terrorist bomb, on the site of the World Trade Center attacks
would have killed more than ten times as many people. A more successful
terrorist nuclear weapon of perhaps 20 kilotons would have killed
100 times more people than were killed on that site.
What should also be clearer now is that resourceful application
of science and technology have much to contribute to reducing
the danger from terrorism, including improved intelligence gathering,
early warning, and interception or apprehension of terrorists
before they strike including reducing vulnerability by raising
barriers to attack and strengthening potential targets including
limiting damage through improved emergency response and including
improving the capabilities to find and target and capture the
culprits after the fact.
But all this will not be enough unless science and technology
are also brought to bear more effectively against those parts
of the roots of terrorism that reside in poverty and deprivation.
Perhaps most importantly, nearly all of the relevant approaches,
whether they are directed against the roots or against the practice
of terrorism, depend on increased international cooperation to
succeed. Unilateralism ought to be recognized as dead. It will
not work. It does not work. It cannot work against this array
So let me turn to that question under the heading, are all [of]
the lessons of September 11th yet really clear? The unwisdom of
unilateralism I give this the alternative title, why the United
States needs friends and cooperators and how it gets and keeps
them is not necessarily, thoroughly recognized yet. We need to
ask how many of the following we are now going to reverse. The
Landmine Convention we refused to join; the International Criminal
Court in which we refused to participate; the Nuclear Test Ban
Treaty we refused to ratify; the Kyoto Protocol we dismissed as
hopelessly flawed. The Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that we announced
we consider obsolete; the protocol to the biological weapons convention,
the discussions of which we walked away from recently; financial
support for the United Nations only partial payment of what was
owed and browbeating the agency into accepting less in the future.
Which of those are we now going to be wise enough to reverse?
Are the lessons really clear? Or the nuclear weapons linkage.
Before September 11th, neglect of nuclear weapons dangers was
already ample cause for concern. There was no timetable for relinquishing
nuclear weapons by the United States or the other official Non
Proliferation Treaty certified nuclear weapons states. No review
of the United States doctrine of first use of nuclear weapons,
even after the end of the Cold War. No major de-alerting of intercontinental
ballistic missiles or submarine-launch ballistic missiles. No
agreement with Russia on deeper cuts. Russia wants to go deeper
than we do.
Most members of the public are not aware of this. It is we who
are holding the levels where they are now. No transparency agreement
with Russia under negotiation for seven years exists yet; a transparency
agreement, which would permit increased cooperation to protect
nuclear bomb usable material in Russia. The high enriched uranium
deal imperiled by privatization and perverse incentives on the
US side, the disposition of surplus plutonium weapons bogged down
in both countries and the FY2002 budget request of the Bush Administration,
[which] slashes funds for protecting Russian nuclear materials
and employing out-of-work Russian nuclear weapons scientists,
biological weapons specialists and the like.
This was already a terrible set of situations prior to September
11th and what has happened after September 11th.. Even after September
11th, recognition of the links between loose nukes, inadequately
protected nuclear weapons, inadequately protected nuclear materials,
inadequately employed nuclear weapons specialists still seems
absent. Twenty-seven billion of the $40 billion emergency fund
for responses to terrorism has now been allocated, not a nickel
for the nuclear threat yet. We must hope that somebody will come
to his or her senses in talking about the remainder.
The top Department of Energy Nuclear Security official, the Administrator
of the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Undersecretary
of Energy for Nuclear Weapons [are] not even a member[s] of the
governmental advisory panel to the head of Homeland Defense, Tom
Ridge, not [one is] even a member. How is one to explain this?
There is no nuclear dimension in our current response to terrorists,
Finally, part three, you will be relieved to know what scientists
and technologists can and should be helping to provide in the
larger arena of science, technology and the human condition. We
should be helping to provide a broader conceptualization of science,
technology and policy issues. That is what I mean by STP, a more
inclusive conceptualization, more comprehensive, more interdisciplinary,
more integrative, more international addressing the full range
of issues in the human condition to which science and technology
We should be trying to help provide more systematic attention
to priorities based on the assessment of the relative magnitude
of the dangers, the challenges and the opportunities, the relevant
leverage of alternative approaches, the appropriate allocation
of efforts between symptoms and causes. I mean, how could we imagine
spending $100 billion on a national missile defense against the
only form of delivery of a nuclear weapon that leaves an indelible
return address3⁄4the last method that a small nation or
a terrorist group would use to deliver such a thing. One hundred
billion dollars proposed for National Missile Defense and not
yet a nickel, in fact they have been slashing the budgets, for
keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of additional nations
and terrorists. It is a matter of priorities.
We need a wider, deeper public debate on the key questions at
the intersection of science, technology, and the human condition.
What is the role of nuclear weapons in the post-Cold War world?
What actions ought we to take to reduce the dangers from global
climate change? How should we think about resolving the tension
between intellectual property rights and wide access to lifesaving
and environment sustaining technologies? Where are developments
and information technology and biotechnology and nano-technology
and robotics taking us and do we want to go there?
We, the scientists and technologists who care about these things,
should be helping to provide more and better education and training
starting with ourselves in thinking more deeply about the societal
implications of our work, and helping the generations of scientists
and technologists coming along to recognize that thinking about
the societal implications of their work is a fundamental responsibility
of being a scientist or a technologist. We need more, and better
education of, interdisciplinary analysts to work full-time at
the intersection of science and technology with policy. We need
[finally] more, and better education of, policymakers and the
public to be numerate, as well as literate, and attuned to the
potentials and the liabilities in scientific and technological