Turning now to the rest of today's event, perhaps some of you are wondering why I gave the conference the title, "Beyond Global Warming". For, isn't global warming and climate change THE problem today facing the sustainability of the earth and its biota? Of course, and I would be in error if I denied this to be the case. But if you look at how this topic is typically addressed, it is as if the world were like a balloon. Pull one part of it and the rest follows. So the quest has been to identify the cause or handful of causes of this global disruption, and once that has been accomplished, to find the silver bullets that will fix the problem. This, for example, has been Al Gore's approach. Let's save energy by replacing incandescent lights with fluorescents. Let's save energy and cut down on emissions by downsizing from big SUVs to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. But I dare say that for many individuals - sometimes even an entire community - their only source of light is a single incandescent bulb, and switching to fluorescent is not economically feasible, and that many more cannot afford any personal means of motorized transportation. So the question is, to whom are the Al Gore's of the world speaking when they propose surefire fixes to global issues? Not the Masai of Kenya or the Hmong of Southeast Asia. Even if a farmer in Northwest India knew what a polar bear was, would saving it take precedence over concern for whether there is enough food to feed one's family or money for critical medical care?
But while I do not advocate squelching this seemingly unified-world perspective and its potential impact on a limited audience of better educated and well off individuals, there is, I believe, another way in which to appreciate "global". And that is from understanding that global is the totality of the patchwork quilt of often small and also often quite different geographical and biotic regions. Local areas that, because of these differences, can have radically different needs that must be understood and addressed before attempting to delineate and solve problems that might ultimately fit under the umbrella of "global warming and climate change". And it is important to recognize that these differences are not solely the consequences of the specifics of geography, geology, and biology, but also of the social, cultural, religious, and political. Simply put, from an anthropological perspective, what may "work" in one area of the world, may not be relevant - and might even produce a negative impact or reaction - if applied wholesale to another area - assuming, of course, that the potential audience of one's attention and good will is sufficiently secure in terms of satisfying basic needs of survival to have any interest in "saving their environment".
Speaking now as evolutionary and theoretical biologist, there is a point about underlying assumptions worth noting. And that is the current of Darwinian, selectionist, adaptationist thinking that, although not identified or recognized as such, underlies the fix-it mentality applied in this case to global warming and climate change. Indeed, the clearly entrenched notion is that, if we can just find the silver bullet or bullets to slow down, stop, and perhaps even begin to turn around the slide into global devastation so, too, can the march to extinction of myriad species be halted and even potentially reversed. Why? Because - we are taught - organisms are inextricably tied to, adapted to, and molded by their environmental circumstances - basically, organisms change as they "track" changes around them. Consequently, if what we see happening now is a direct correlation between any species and its surroundings, then if we can "fix" the problem, we can save the species.
Not so, unfortunately. As the developmental biologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries intuited, and evolutionary developmental biologists today know, there is a difference between the survival of species and their origin. That is, contrary to Darwinian thinking, evolutionary change is not adaptation writ large. Adaptation is merely that: an organism's ability to adjust to its circumstances within the biological constraints it already possesses. True, there can be change at the adaptive level - as seen in the recent discovery of a change in some humans in one of the hemoglobin molecules. But that's about it, especially for multicellular organisms. As I've learned all too well from my colleague Bruno Maresca, an organism's cells possess a plethora of mechanisms to prevent change from happening. And if you think about it, it's obvious. As the 19th century Victorians would say, like tends to beget like. In other words, once a human, always a human, with all the limitations that includes.
So what about the impact of climate or other environmental change on organisms - especially if cells are essentially resistant to change? It appears that a climatic stressor sufficient to overcome cells' capacity to weed out potential error can do it. But as has been known for almost a century now, such a "mutation" - to use the term as broadly and vaguely as possible - would not immediately be expressed. Rather the potential for change would spread silently through the population until heterozygotes bearing one copy of the recessive mutation produced homozygotes with the matched pairs of the mutation necessary for its expression. If the resultant novelty - which will appear in multiple individuals - is not lethal, its bearers have it. Not because they wanted it, or that it made them better adapted, but because it doesn't kill them.
More importantly, however, is the realization that the environmental stressor and the expression of the resultant mutation will be separated in time - and perhaps even more importantly, that the environmental circumstances in which the bearers of this novelty find themselves is dissociated from the environmental stresses that initially provoked the potential for change. In other words, unknown sins of the past are now potentially cropping up in organisms of the present. And that's a much more troublesome proposition than thinking that if we could soon stop adding to greenhouse gases, prevent excessive nitrogenous run-off, curtail industrial pollution, and change our lighting to lower heat-producing bulbs, we could "fix" the world.
So it is from this perspective that I think we might profitably pursue discussions "beyond global warming", and I am particularly pleased and honored that so many eminent thinkers representing a diversity of disciplines and expertise have made time to participate in today's conference. In particular, I want to thank our keynote speakers, Dr. Tariq Banuri, Senior Fellow and Director of the Future of Sustainability Program of the Stockholm Environmental Institute, and Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Director of the Library of Alexandria and Chair of BioVision Alexandria for agreeing to address the large questions that set the stage for ensuing discussion.
Wearing the hat of historian of science, I am particularly interested in Dr Banuri's tackling the question, "is the past a key to global challenges of the future", since an ongoing debate in evolutionary science is whether the past is the key to the present or the present is the key to the past. Following his presentation, Dr Banuri will join panel members - Prof Joseph Alter, Chair of anthropology at Pitt, Prof Agni Arvinitis, found of the Biopolitics International Organisation, Athens, Greece; and Prof Bruno Maresca, Dept of Microbiology at the University of Salerno Italy - in opening up the topic for discussion, in which I hope you will freely participate. Robert Berg, World Academy Trustee and Senior Advisor to the World Federation of United Nations Associations.
Since we are at an institution of higher learning whose faculty span the breadth of the humanities as well as social, physical, biological, and health sciences, and a uniqueness among international organization of the World Academy is, as its full name attests, representation across arts and sciences, it is appropriate to ask: can and if so how can such diversity of expertise and perspective deal with global challenges - in both the large and patchwork senses?
The relevance of the arts to this discussion - this endeavor - cannot be underestimated. Perhaps because in this country, art - visual, verbal, written, movement - has not been a political and social voice as much as in other countries. We are less accustomed to thinking about it in these terms. But as an - as THE - expressive representation and representative of the commonalities, as well as individual nuances of life - which is after all the essence of the patchwork model of "global" - it behooves us to centralize it in our discussions of future challenges that we all face.
This will be the focus of the first session after the lunch break. The final panel of the day will be an overview, a reflection on the discussions of the day. I will introduce both at that time.
Before turning the podium over to Dr. Banuri, I must tell you that this event would not have been possible without the support and co-sponsorship of the University of Pittsburgh School of Arts and Sciences Dean's Office, Dept of Anthropology, Asian Studies Center, Global Studies Program, Graduate School of Public Health, and European Studies Center. And this event would not have held together without the efforts of my department's staff, and Donna Yurko in particular. I thank you all.
This afternoon, we are very fortunate to have as one of our speakers, Dr. Ismail Serageldin, Director of the Library of Alexandria and Chair of BioVision Alexandria, who present the keynote lecture: "Complex realities: science, humanities, and art". There are few scholars who would even attempt to address the collective scope of these disciplines. Dr. Serageldin flew to the US yesterday from Egypt in order to attend, and I am grateful to him. Following his presentation, Dr. Serageldin will join panelists Distinguished Prof Colin MacCabe, of Pitt's Dept of English, whose most recent film Derek was chosen for the Sundance Film Festival, and Prof Juliana Spahr, poet, editor, and literary critic, and W.M. Keck Chair of Creative Writing, Mills College. This panel will be led by Dr. Jose Furtado, formerly of the World Bank and currently Secretary General of the World Academy and Visiting Professor at Imperial College, London. Again this is not a closed conversation, so I invite all of you to freely participate.
Former World Academy President, Walter Truett Anderson, who is one of the finest synthesizers I have heard speak, will conduct the final, retro-, intro- and extra-spective session, reacting and responding to the day's presentations - even including mine - in which all panelists and speakers and I hope members of the audience will participate.
Thank you Chancellor Nordenberg for your opening remarks.
And thank you Walt. You have left quite a legacy to follow – not only numerous years of being associated and working with the World Academy, but your two terms as Vice President, followed by two terms as President, and in the midst of all this, co-founding the Meridian Institute in the Bay area and continuing to publish influential monographs on the states of society. If I remember correctly, you told me that you chose February 28th as the day of your installation as president because it was your birthday, and an easy date to remember – which makes your accomplishments even that more impressive since, as I understand it, today you turn 39. Kidding aside, on behalf of the World Academy I cannot thank you enough for your years of dedication to its functioning. When you approached me about being nominated to run for president of the Academy, one thing you said – which I haven’t forgotten – is that you had heard that I was a person of good sense. In trying to live up to this reputation, I look forward not only to safeguarding the successes that you leave, but also to taking up new challenges.
In addition to this acknowledgement of your accomplishments, I had also hoped to present you with a tangible token of the Academy’s appreciation. I am afraid that certain circumstances interfered with my attending to this now, but I will let the cat out of the bag and tell you that such an occasion is in your future, in October, at the General Assembly in Hyderabad.
And finally I need to share with you a personal moment. I believe I come by my interests in science and art because of my parents. My father, Jack Schwartz, is a retired physician – THE physician during the Second World War to investigate the effects of quinine and THE leading pediatrician in establishing kidney disease as a distinct subspecialty. My mother, Lillian Schwartz, was either the sole or one of only a few instigators of numerous changes in the visual arts, not least of which was the emergence of computer imaging, art, graphics, and motion pictures. They wanted to be here with us today. But they cannot. My father is unfortunately succumbing to cancer. So if you all will allow me this indulgence, I would like to dedicate this event to them.
Once again, thank you very much.