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Engineers for Sustainability - Norman P. Neureiter

Engineers for Sustainability

Norman P. Neureiter, Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State Remarks at National Science Foundation Arlington, Virginia November 1, 2002

Good morning. It is always a pleasure and an honor to appear at an assembly of your distinguished engineering associations and the National Academy of Engineering. One might argue that convening here in the halls of N.S.F., you have offered me the best of both worlds --science and engineering -- science and technology.

It is just over 2 years ago that, much to the chagrin of my wife, I came out of retirement from Texas Instruments and took this job with the State Department. I did so because I believe so passionately in the role of science and engineering as an essential element in the formation and the execution of U.S. foreign policy. That was the theme that was developed so thoroughly in the excellent National Research Council report of 1999. It was in fact that report, Science, Technology, and Health and Foreign Policy, which led to the creation of my present position. This report is available on the N.A.S./N.R.C., Website.

Even before I showed up for work, Jack Gibbons had signed me up to give a talk at an N.A.E., meeting on global systems engineering. I called the talk -- It s the World Stupid.

I did so out of a kind of frustration that no one in the election campaign of 2000 had been able -- not even in the Jim Lehrer debates -- to get a discussion going about the challenges of global leadership -- which clearly was the mantle that, for better or worse, like it or not, had landed squarely on America s shoulders.

What a difference in 2 short years! Look at the front page of your newspaper -- everyday, there is something about global war against terrorism; a critical debate in the U.N. Security Council the outcome of which might determine whether the U.S. goes to war; nuclear weapons in Korea; Russians dying at the hands of terrorists or their rescuers in Moscow; Americans killed in Pakistan and in Jordan, Australians killed in Bali; and many of us have not recovered from the horror of 9/11. Now we are talking about vaccinating all Americans against a bioterrorist attack of smallpox and are fortifying our borders against unwanted foreign students and workers. In fact, we are in danger of building walls around our science community, and we are raising a new generation of Americans to expect that some will die from weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Islamic fanatics. Yes, things have really changed in the last 2 years.

My point is that, it is about the world, but it is a world not just of politics and terrorism. It s weather, atmosphere, oceans, global warming, energy resources, air travel, the Internet, communications, wealth and poverty, business markets, the environment, forests, infectious disease, food, agriculture, medicine, investment, money and so on. These are all parts of a single, very complex, interdependent world, a world that is crying out for a path to sustainable development.

My father, who seems in retrospect to become wiser and wiser as I get older and older -- once said to me that America s debates are always about local issues -- but those things, which have the greatest impact on America, have always originated abroad. And that seems even truer today.

Now, I came here not as a prophet of doom -- though I might sound like one -- but as a cheerleader. I came here to be a cheerleader for what you folks have set about to do -- to harness the genius and the art of the engineering world in the cause of global sustainability.

The N.R.C., came out with another report in 1999, it was a seminal document called, Our Common Journey -- A Transition Toward Sustainability -- and all of the National Academies are engaged in a series of follow-on initiatives. Today s conference is one of those initiatives. Your impressive draft prospectus for today s meeting has as its objective, to develop a sustainability program -- both domestic and international -- which the American engineering program can fully embrace.

We at the Department of State commend you for setting that goal and for being willing to set out on the complex road to get there. Engineers may be the only ones who can actually make it happen.

I am always amazed at what engineers can do. One week ago today, right at this time, I was in a helicopter about 130 miles south of New Orleans landing on an offshore deepwater drilling and production platform -- the Chevron Texaco Genesis Spar. To see, and even more, to feel this huge $1.5-billion floating structure tethered to the bottom -- housing 140 people, producing and processing up to 55,000 barrels of oil per day and some 70 million cubic feet of gas -- and feeding it directly into pipelines -- gas that will be burned in New York three days later, you have to be impressed. It is an engineering marvel. And by the way, that platform had just withstood 135-mph winds and 55-foot waves a week before as a late fall hurricane tore through the Gulf.

Today there is drilling in nearly 8,000 feet of water in the Gulf with up to 20 wells drilled in many directions from a single platform. Some of those wells may have a stem 30,000 feet long -- nearly 6 miles. There is saturation divers working 360 feet down who live entirely in decompress compartments for 28 days including 3 ½ days to decompress before coming out to enjoy a month off. Wells are completed and pipelines hooked up entirely by remotely operated vehicles -- thousands of feet below the surface.

When you see all of this technology in action, you begin to realize that engineers can do anything that they put their minds to.

I commend you for what you are tackling today. And I know you realize you have to do it on a global basis.

From your briefing and background material, you already know most of the story of the 1992 Rio Conference that began to set the policy framework for sustainability -- and about the long lead-in to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), in Johannesburg, that was a global process focused on implementation.

We at State did not see Johannesburg as a single event. We refer to it as WSSD, and Beyond -- a long process. And in fact, there has emerged from Johannesburg a new focus -- and in fact, some new trends and some new vocabulary associated with this process.

Secretary Powell, in a brief visit and speech at the Summit, represented President Bush. For the rest of the time, Under Secretary of State Paula Dobriansky for Global Affairs led the U.S. delegation. She was mainly supported from State by staff members from O.E.S -- our Oceans, Environment and Science Bureau -- headed by Assistant Secretary John Turner. John now has a key role in the interagency process following up on Johannesburg.

The key sectors identified for attention are energy, water, coastal zones and fisheries, biodiversity protection, HIV/AIDS and other global diseases, agricultural productivity, and education.

Science and technology -- science and engineering -- are essential components for addressing every one of these sectors. Science is needed to understand the problems -- and engineering and technology to do something about them.

Two very basic themes that the U.S. emphasized at the Summit were good governance and public-private partnerships. The point of good governance is that corrupt, mismanaged societies will not develop and money spent on them will be wasted. And the point of partnerships is that funds and foreign assistance from governments are simply not sufficient to do the job. We need to create effective partnerships between public and private organizations to address specific problems and solve them. Public/private partnerships -- these are three key words for the future of global development and the road to sustainability. And here is where the American engineering community s role can be so important.

Paula Dobriansky has said it well, if we want to achieve concrete results from the treaties and agreements already negotiated we must address the strengthening at good governance and capturing the power of partnerships. That is why the partnership of the American engineering community and N.A.E., is so vital.

I have a pretty simple concept of development, although actually doing it can be quite complicated. Development to me means equipping a country or a society to link into and become a functioning part of a rapidly globalizing world -- a world that today is essentially driven by technology. With no local S&T capacity, no technical infrastructure, or training of people to couple into that world -- there will be little or no development.

Hence, I tend to think in terms of five specific elements where science and engineering are intimately involved in the development process:

* Building capacity for sustainable development. * Investing and training the next generation. * Ensuring access to information. * Strengthening the scientific basis of decision-making. * Informing the public in an honest, transparent manner.

It seems to me that you engineers have recognized the challenge. And I again commend the N.A.E., and the engineering community for your June 24 statement on The engineer s role in sustainable development. That was the declaration by the U.S. engineering community to the World Summit. Here today you will work to flesh out a program that will turn that declaration into reality.

Unfortunately, I cannot be with you all day, I am leaving in a few hours for Austria, but my Deputy Andy Reynolds will be here. I am sure he will make contributions to your meeting, but he will also carry your message back to State as part of the total U.S. effort on sustainability.

But let me end with a specific challenge related to my own mission at State. My task is to try to raise the scientific and engineering literacy and awareness within the State Department so that such considerations will be fully comprehended in the formation of U.S. foreign policy. The ultimate purpose is to strengthen the scientific and technical basis of our foreign policy decision-making.

But one cannot do this alone, nor can one make policy by whispering science in the secretary s ear. One needs people with this capability and this literacy throughout the whole organization. And so, my small staff and I have been building partnerships with the science and engineering community and several of professional societies have now created fellowships and selected diplomat fellows, who come to work for one or two years at State and then go back to their other jobs. Right now from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, from the American Institute of Physics, and most recently from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the first engineering society to come forward with a funded fellowship -- we have 31 such people at State. The Industrial Research Institute is also planning to sign up and I hope that the chemists at the American Chemical Society will do so as well.

Let me read to you from your own words in that June 24, Declaration on Sustainability:

Engineers must be actually engaged in the entire decision-making process -- from conceptualization to project design, development, and implementation. This includes the interdisciplinary process of building the evaluation/decision framework and the institutional infrastructures to realize a sustainable future.

There are a large number of engineering societies involved with the N.A.E., in this sustainability effort. I would hope that you might collectively be able to establish several engineer-diplomat, fellowships at the Department of State. In this way, you will be an integral part of the foreign policy process that leads to international development policies and programs, and your voices will be heard both loud and early in the game. Establish a partnership with us at State through this program and join us in this noble effort. I wish you great success with today s meeting.


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