I remember reading once about the great physicist I. I. Rabi, who talked about the role his mother played in fostering his love of learning. She was not the only mother to ask about school when the kids got home early in the afternoon, but while the other parents often asked their kids, "Did anything happen in school?" or " What did you learn today?" Dr. Rabi's mother asked, he said, "What good questions did you ask today?" I made a mental note when I ran across that it is a pretty good one for parents, and at conferences like this, it is a good approach also. Finding answers is not always the point. Sometimes it is an achievement to ask the right questions. Over the past two days you have discussed and debated an ambitious variety of questions related to the role of science and technology in protecting our nation's national security and helping us achieve global stability.
I would like to discuss today one of the questions this Administration has grappled with this last two years and two months. What is the relationship between science and technology on the one hand and national security on the other? In order to even attempt to answer that question, we have to define national security. During the last half-century, the definition has seemed relatively simple.
Protecting our national security has meant safeguarding us from military attack and preventing all of those preliminary developments which might make a military attack more rather than less probable. Now, of course, the Cold War has ended, and while we can in no way relax our determination to maintain the best and most capable Armed Forces on earth, everyone realizes that it is time to take a broader view of national security.
We have defined the new approaches we believe are necessary in basically three categories: Economic Revitalization, Military Security and maintenance of the readiness of our armed forces, and promotion of Sustainable Development. It is important to make the effort to understand how the context within which we pursue national security has changed. We often, of course, understand the world through the use of metaphors. The very phrase "national security" is a metaphor through which we try to grasp the new threats in the new world. It is a military metaphor.
Science and technology has helped to create many of the new challenges that we face as it will help us find many of the solutions that we need. That was true at the dawn of the nuclear age and during the Cold War, and it is true now. In exploring the nature of the military metaphor that pervades our discussion of national security in the post-Cold War era, it might be helpful to try to identify some of the aspects of the metaphor that are opposite to the new challenges and some that are not.
At the dawn of the nuclear age it became readily apparent that a new discovery coming out of science had given humankind a new power with which to pursue an old activity. Nuclear war thus became understood as very different from war. War is an age-old habit of human civilization, but with the new technology produced by nuclear physics, the consequences of all-out war were suddenly transformed. Consequently, we were required to think anew about the age-old habit that now had new consequences.
A second aspect of the military metaphor is that it has a global dimension. Before the world wars of this century World War I, World War II, and the Cold War wars were principally regional in nature, and military historians were accustomed to speaking of conflicts in three categories: Local Conflicts, Regional or Theater Conflicts, and then Strategic Conflicts, which acquired a global dimension. Strategic came to mean a war which involved the existence of the nation requiring a response, which organized all of the assets available to a nation: military, economic, psychological, cultural (victory gardens), all harnessed in a coherent national approach to win the strategic conflict.
Having lived with this metaphor for a half-century, it is natural for us to apply it in our effort to reassess the threats to national security in the post-Cold War era. But like all metaphors, this one has limitations. It assumes implicitly an external threat, separate from us, to which we respond comprehensively and forcefully. Some of the changes now underway affect the context within which we confront challenges. Let me revisit now the three categories I mentioned at the outset Economic Revitalization, Military Security, and Sustainable Development and try to illustrate the point about the change in context.
If we are pursuing Economic Revitalization, it is not sufficient to identify some external threat to which we can respond by deploying new tools and new approaches in an effort to win the struggle with this external threat. Protectionists define the world of economics in terms of that metaphor, but it is entirely inadequate. Markets are now global in nature. The tools of national economic policy are limited in their utility by interaction with tools employed by other nation states. Look, for example, at the control of interest rates which used to be almost entirely within the province of national policy makers, but now will be affected by decisions made tomorrow in markets from London to Singapore. Look at the corporation, which used to be defined in a national context, but is now, of course, multinational in form.
Similarly, when we try to revitalize our economy by creating more jobs, we have to take into account the struggle that all industrial nations are now having in the effort to create new jobs. Any effort to simply apply new technologies coming out of new science in order to create enhanced employment opportunities will run headlong into a whole series of complications.
To use an analogy, the Industrial Revolution led to a sharp reduction in the number of jobs in agriculture, the primary source of employment for most of our nations in existence. Over a period of 100 to 130 years, the retroactive application of the fruits of the Industrial Revolution to the work done on farms led to the hemorrhaging of jobs in agriculture. Fifty percent of the jobs were on farms at the time of the Civil War; now a little over two percent of the jobs in America are on farms.
We use the Industrial Revolution again as a metaphor to try and understand the Information Revolution. In some ways it applies and in some ways it does not. In this context, the metaphor is illuminating, because just as the fruits of the Industrial Revolution were applied retroactively to mechanized farming which in turn led to a massive loss of employment on the farm, in a similar way the fruits of the information revolution when applied retroactively to numerically-controlled machines, computer-assisted manufacturing, and automation of all factory processes leads to a rapid thinning out of several categories of employment in manufacturing.
Five years after the end of World War II, 34 percent of America's work force was employed in factories. Today, 50 years later, less than 17 percent of America's work force is employed in factories. To revisit the metaphor, the Industrial Revolution not only led to the loss of older jobs but created a large number of new occupations unknown before they were created. In the same way the information revolution, while it is causing the loss of many factory jobs, is of course opening up a great many new occupations that we did not realize existed only 10 years ago. This particular metaphor does not apply in that the short period of time during which this transition is taking place is very different from the long period of adjustment that accompanied the Industrial Revolution.
So the effort to apply science and technology to our strategic goal of economic revitalization must take into account the comprehensive changes that are accompanying the scientific and technological changes themselves. As always, more knowledge, more research, and more investment is better and will help us to create new jobs, revitalize our economy, and cope with the changes. But a reflexive investment of faith and confidence in that approach by itself can be self-defeating unless we go about it intelligently.
That is why we are looking forward to your recommendations concerning that particular challenge. We need your help in thinking through the best ways science and technology can help us achieve this strategic goal without simply urging us to put more money into science and technology. What is the deeper relationship?
The second goal: Military Preparedness. Again we fall back on the way we used to address this question and assume that the role which ought to be played by science and technology is to assure us that we are on the cutting edge of any new developments that can have military applications lest we be taken by surprise, and at the same time inform us of countermeasures and defensive steps that we must be aware of before any potential aggressor is aware of them. And that needs to be done. But right now, the world is chilled by the specter of killings in Burundi that are all too reminiscent of the early stages of the horrific massacre in neighboring Rwanda, and there is precious little that science and technology can do to equip military forces to deal with this horrendous loss of life. What could we have done differently in Somalia? What are the new threats around the world to which militaries are being asked to respond?
We fall back again on the notion that what we most fear is an aggressive ideology capturing the motivations of a nation state and compelling it to aim its weapons of war against us. And again, without diminishing the importance that threat, we need to also ask the question: How can science and technology assist us in coping with the new challenges that often feature a multi-factorial assault on the integrity of a society, causing a rapid decay and descent into chaos? I am not particularly fond of the word "chaos" as it is so often used to describe the foreign policy challenge exemplified by Rwanda or Bosnia or Somalia, but there is no question that the word is appropriate in that "chaos" is something that defies traditional step-by-step, logical analysis.
It is the symbol of a family of problems so complex that in order to understand them we have to ask for assistance from science and technology with complexity theory, with the use of new analytical techniques that might allow us to identify those changes that have leverage over the future. And then in a preventive strategy, enable us to address the causes of society breakdown before it reaches the stage that militaries are asked to respond.
During the harsh impact of the Industrial Revolution, William Butler Yeats wrote these famous words, "Things fall apart the center cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Those words seem curiously descriptive of some of the new challenges into which our military has been sometimes now thrust.
The third challenge which goes under the heading "Sustainable Development" is one that I have spent a good deal of time attempting to address. I have come to believe that the problem that we call global climate change, now the subject of discussions in Berlin, and the problem of the loss of living species at such an unprecedented rate unprecedented since the disappearance of the dinosaurs at least the loss of rain forest, the poisoning of our air and water, and other challenges of that scale are all symptoms of a deeper underlying crisis in the context of our relationship to the earth's environment. I believe that a radical change has taken place in that relationship in our lifetimes because of the confluence of three factors. One of them is the scientific and technological revolution itself.
Harkening back to the metaphor of nuclear weapons, just as nuclear weapons changed the consequences of all-out war, the emergence of new tools for exploiting the earth have transformed the consequences of all-out exploitation. Fishing with a hook or a small net has trivial consequences. Vacuuming the oceans with 40-mile drift nets and sophisticated electronic equipment to precisely locate the schools of fish has an entirely different set of consequences. None of the new technologies for exploiting the earth for sustenance is anywhere nearly as dramatic as nuclear weapons, but all of them taken together have completely transformed the consequences of all-out exploitation.
My friend Sherwood Rowland, who is here with his wife, Joan, was, the discoverer of the relationship between chlorofluorocarbons and the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer along with Marlo Molina two decades ago. There was tremendous resistance to the assertion Sherry Rowland made, because it was inconceivable to most people, even in the sciences, that there could be such large consequences flowing from the act of using a new chemical compound. And yet, the air we are breathing in this auditorium right now has six times as vmany chlorine atoms in each lungful as it did 50 years ago because of chorofluorocarbons. That does not hurt our health so far as we know, but as Dr. Rowland pointed out, it certainly poses a strategic threat to the relationship between humankind and the earth's environment. He was vindicated by the evidence, of course, and yet we face similar consequences now unfolding that people still resist. One debate being debated again now in Berlin has to do with the consequences of the rapid accumulation of greenhouse gases, principally CO2, but also methane, nitrous oxide, and other trace gases.
I brought a chart, really two charts if you will forgive me, but I will just use the one. [CHART DISPLAY] This looks more complicated than it is and many of you are familiar with it. It has two lines. The bottom line represents temperature from 160,000 years ago until the present time. This is the last Ice Age. This is the next-to-last Ice Age. And this is a period of great warming in between the Ice Ages. It was around this time that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet slipped off the tops of the islands pinning it up, and sea level rose 23 feet, I believe. In New York City, this is the difference between a nice day like today and having a mile of ice over your head.
The second line on the graph represents carbon dioxide. It is measured of course in the ice cores which contain annual layers of ice reflecting the snow that fell that year in Antarctica, which being a desert technically, has low amounts of precipitation which produces very thin layers, which preserves a large number of the layers. And each layer contains tiny bubbles of air within which scientists can measure the relative incidence of oxygen-16 to oxygen-18. Correct? Which in turn is a very sensitive measure of atmospheric temperature at the time when that layer came down. And that is where the temperature line comes from. It also contains the parts per million of carbon dioxide. Now, there are two points that I want to make with this graph.
Number one: There seems to be a relationship between the two lines. The precise nature of the relationship is not clearly understood. There may be a two-way causal relationship. But the associative relationship is certainly provocative.
It reminds me of a story that I always remember about my sixth grade class when we studied geography and the teacher pulled down a map of the world and one of my classmates was forever curious about the relationship between the east coast of South America and the west coast of Africa. And if you can see them in your mind's eye, you can readily imagine a sixth grader asking the question as he finally worked up his courage to do one day, "Did they ever fit together?" And the teacher, faithfully representing the scientific consensus in 1959, said "That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard."
But later scientific evidence vindicated that sixth grader. What the sixth grader had noticed was a relationship which to my eyes at least, having gone through that experience, is not very different from the associative relationship between these two lines.
The second point I want to make is what is happening to CO2 right now? It is going up much more and much more rapidly than anything we have ever seen and we have ever measured. It is above here now, it is above 360 now and it is on the way up. In roughly 40 to 50 years at the current rate of increase, here is what it will be. Within the lifetimes of people in this auditorium. [ Now I need your help.] It is right about there now and it is going here certainly within the lifetimes of our children. If I live as many years as I have already lived I will see this also. [Now, if you do not mind holding it there for a minute.]
The prevailing political consensus in the world is "Hey, that is fine no problem looks okay to me. You see any difficulty with that? I do not know looks okay to me." When in fact the burden of proof ought to fall on those who say this is perfectly all right. Because if temperature on a global basis and greenhouse gas concentrations on a global basis have moved up and down in relative lock-step for as far back as we can measure, and now by our own actions, we are causing a truly radical and unprecedented change in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, should not we ask the question, "What might that do to temperatures?"
The news is filled with the images of this new 50 mile long iceberg off the Larson Shelf in West Antarctica which has just broken off, and people say, "Oh well, we do not know what that means," and we do not, but it is provocative. Since the last time we saw the breakup of the West Antarctic ice shelf was here and since we are now here on CO2 and since eight of the ten hottest years since we have measured have been in the last decade and a half, maybe we ought to shift that burden of proof. [Okay you can put that down.]
I said there were three factors which have caused a radical change in the relationship between human civilization and the ecological system of the earth. And the new powers coming out of the accelerating scientific and technological revolution represent one. I will do the other two very briefly. You know them.
The second one is the population explosion. We are adding the equivalent of one China's worth of people every 10 years. That, like the developments on this chart, are unprecedented and brand new. It took more than 10,000 generations of human beings before we reached a population of 2 billion people toward the end of World War II. And in my 47 years, we have gone from a little over 2 billion to 5 and one-half billion. If I live another 47 years, God willing, we will go to 9 billion, perhaps 10 billion. That is a big change, because if it takes 10,000 generations to reach 2 billion, and then one human lifetime to go from 2 billion to 10 billion, that is a radical change.
The third cause of this transformed relationship is the most subtle but the most important there has been a change in our way of thinking associated with modernism which has led too many to discount the importance of the future consequences of present actions. I do not pretend to understand why that has taken place, but many have commented upon it, and some have suggested some causes.
The Cartesian Revolution for all its blessings also carried with it an implicit assumption that we as human beings are separate from the environment in which we live. That enabled many useful insights to occur but also obscured some fundamental truths. I also believe that to a lesser degree the dawn of the nuclear age added incrementally to a certain fatalistic attitude which tipped the scales for many who always struggle with the necessity of taking the future into account when it impinges upon what one wishes to do in the present. I think for many when that balance was tipped there was more of a willingness to discount the future.
In order to respond to this third challenge to our national security, I think that we have to address all three of the related causes. We have to make efforts to stabilize world population, and under President Clinton's leadership at Cairo, the United States led the world to the formation of a new consensus that emphasizes the empowerment of women, the enhancement of education and literacy, the availability of culturally appropriate forms of contraception and the enhancement of child survival rates in order to give parents the confidence that their children will survive and thus induce a preference for smaller families.
Secondly, we need your help in understanding how science and technology can help us accelerate the development of new approaches to exploiting the earth for sustenance that do not carry with them the same consequences for vulnerable parts of the earth's ecological system, such as the atmosphere, but not limited to the atmosphere. And we need your help in understanding how to avoid the mistaken belief that there is some technological silver bullet that will by itself solve this problem. That is not part of the solution, that is more of the problem. But science and technology must play an absolutely critical role. We must also, however, address that third factor which is our way of thinking about our relationship to the earth and the context in which we pursue all our objectives: the political, social, and cultural context as well as the environmental context.
We need your specific advice on policies that you will find outlined in materials that the Administration is submitting to you and to the Congress on cooperative threat reduction, the security of nuclear weapons, specific programs like the Coral Reef Initiative and our climate change action plan. But more than that, we need your help in understanding the approach that we must take.
The great scientist, Archimedes, made his famous statement, "Give me a place on which to stand, and I will move the earth." He was challenged to put his words into action, and according to the historians, he arranged a series of pulleys and cogs that allowed him to pull a ship out of the Syracusan Fleet from the water onto the beach. Today in addressing the relationship between science and technology to national security we must operate as a cooperative team trying to "move the earth" in a sense toward freedom, justice, opportunity, and sustainable development. In order to succeed we must work together and inform our efforts with a clear sense of the moral dimension that ought to inform this struggle with a sense of urgency.
There is a palpable sense in the hearts of many that we are living in a time in which the changes we witness are so rapid that the margin for error is reduced and the necessity for finding right answers is enhanced. It is precisely for that reason that President Clinton asked all of you to invest the time and effort you have invested in this conference. We eagerly anticipate your advice and suggestions and for your participation we are profoundly grateful. Thank you.
President and First Lady | Vice President and Mrs. Gore
Record of Progress | The Briefing Room
Gateway to Government | Contacting the White House | White House for Kids
White House History | White House Tours | Help
T H E W H I T E H O U S E