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HOME > PAST ISSUE > March-April 2004 > Article Detail


Toward a Secure, Sustainable, Interconnected Future

The Sigma Xi Forum held last November in Los Angeles stimulated a number of thoughts about the Society's international role in a world that is both increasingly interconnected and increasingly unsustainable. Not only are human beings living unsustainably, but we are also increasing the rate at which we are depleting our planet's resources, thus taking more than our share away from our children and grandchildren and progressively limiting the degree to which they will have opportunities comparable to those that we enjoy.

In addition, the distribution of wealth around the world is far from equitable. Women and children are victimized the most, but the four-fifths of the world's people who live in developing countries lack most of the opportunities that we in the United States take for granted. In fact, the U.S., with 4.5 percent of the world's population, depends on 25 percent of the world’s productivity to maintain its standard of living and is responsible for 25–30 percent of the planet’s pollution. Americans thus depend on the productivity of countries everywhere to maintain our standard of living.

With nearly a third of the world's scientists and engineers, the U.S. has great opportunities to spur objective communication and sound development around the world. For example, vigorous pursuit of alternative energy and energy conservation is necessary to decrease our dependence on foreign oil and increase our future economic viability in a world where other developed nations are taking the global environmental situation into account in forming their current and future plans.

Science and engineering offer a suitable language for enhancing communication between people everywhere and promoting democracy, and we should use them for these purposes. In turn, the development of science and engineering increasingly depends on international cooperation that we must not allow our fear of terrorism to disrupt any more than is absolutely necessary. If we fail to take the nature of science into account as we guard our borders, and a high proportion of the hundreds of thousands of students and scholars who come from abroad to study in our country are turned away by regulations set up to deter the actions of a criminal few, we will damage beyond imagining our future scientific and technical strength and our economy: Europe is likely to be the clear winner. The distinguished physicist Mohammed Hassan, executive director of the Third World Academy of Sciences, with its headquarters in Trieste, Italy, was denied a visa to address our Forum, thus depriving the delegates of the opportunity to hear one of the world's most internationally minded Islamic scientists. Did that denial provide benefits for the U.S.?

Mexico is our neighbor, second only to Canada as a trading partner. At the Forum, we were fortunate to hear views from leading Mexican science administrators and scientists about the future of science and technology in Mexico and its relationship to the U.S. A vision of expanding the number, role and activity level of Sigma Xi chapters in Mexico was in the air as the conference concluded. Can anyone doubt that Hemispheric relationships will become an increasingly important element in all of our lives? The Forum certainly provided much to think about and act upon in our home institutions, as we define the most appropriate local, national and international roles for our Society to play in the future.

Peter H. Raven
President, Sigma Xi

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