DAVID M. LODGE: Thank you very much [INAUDIBLE] for getting us started this morning. And welcome to everyone. It's an honor for me to be able to begin our conversations.
And I want to start by putting these sustainability challenges in global context and then focus on some ways for progress, pointing out the opportunities that exist for university researchers to partner with other organizations, as exemplified by the discussion that we'll have throughout the day in not only helping to understand these global sustainability problems which have strong manifestations in Asia and everywhere else on the planet, but also to deploy those partnerships between universities and others to help solve these sustainability challenges.
So I want to put the sustainability in this context, a context that's been with us now for a couple of decades, from the Brundtland Commission report. So when we talk about sustainability, this is what we're talking about. How can we, our generation, order our lives in order to allow a future for our children and grandchildren to have the kind of life in the kind of environment that we ourselves value while also meeting the desperate material needs at the same time of many people on the planet in Asia and elsewhere. So that's the vision-- how can we deploy our resources-- universities and with our partners-- to help bring about a future that's consistent with this sustainable development goal.
There are daunting challenges to this, challenges that are daunting because they are complex and because they are increasingly urgent. One way to think about is the way that the UN has framed these issues, the sustainable development goals that were adopted coming into effect last year in 2016 and that are working toward accomplishment, we would hope, in 2035.
One of the benefits of looking at development in this way, these 17 sustainable development goals, is that they acknowledge, in this simple framework even, that the welfare of future humans depends on the complex set of ecosystem goods and services that are provided by the natural world, both animate and inanimate, that we have to consider human well-being in terms of material needs in addition to the well-being of life on land and in the water, that we need to look at these goals, I would argue, as a system.
We have to look comprehensively at these. They're complicated enough to think about one goal at a time. But in addition, one of the major points of my talk is to say we really need to look at these as a system. And I'll return back to that point later.
I want to first take a little bit of a look back. We can often get depressed, discouraged, by the complexity and the urgency of these problems. They are indeed daunting. They are indeed huge challenges. But I believe, and I hope not in a naive way, that we can accomplish these goals. And I think some looks back at some past examples of success in responding to sustainability goals can provide us a context from which to toward future solutions, but also some encouragement that in fact we have made progress in some areas.
So for example, if we think about the predecessor UN goals to the sustainable development goals, those goals were called the Millennium Development Goals, or the MDGs. Just look at a couple of them here. We accomplished the Millennium Development Goal.
One of the subgoals of Millennium Development Goal number one was to halve extreme poverty. That goal was met ahead of time. It was met ahead of time largely on the basis of what China and India were able to do in improving the welfare of their people.
Another one of the Millennium Development Goals had as a subgoal to reduce childhood mortality. Here I'll just highlight one example of the kind of university partner accomplishment that I want to talk more about as I proceed. Here I highlight the project led by Becky Stoltzfus and an interdisciplinary team at Cornell that worked first in Zambia in partnership with the humanitarian organization CARE to decrease childhood malnutrition which contributed to stunting.
They did this in very culturally sensitive, community acceptable and ways that were affordable. And it worked and was adopted by communities to separate children's play spaces from the waste products of animals-- simple in concept, complex to solve in cultural context-- that worked so well that CARE has now exported that model to four other Southern African countries. That and many other efforts across the globe contributed to progress for Millennium Development Goals four. So we have made progress in these human welfare sorts of goals in the past.
A different sort of sustainability goal on which we've made progress in the past, this is the ozone hole. In the 1970s, on the basis of university and government research, we learned that the UV-protecting layer of stratosphere in the ozone was being depleted by chemicals, refrigerants that we were putting into the atmosphere. That hole was getting bigger every year.
On the basis of that research that was brought into policy context by a Republican presidential administration led by Lee Thomas, then the director of the EPA, rather astonishingly quickly for activities on the science policy interface led to an international agreement called the Montreal Protocol that led to the transition away from refrigerants that were causing the ozone hole. So in fact this worked-- an international agreement put into force forward rather quickly that had large private sector consequences worked. And the ozone hole has been diminishing in size ever since.
Another kind of atmospheric challenge-- this is an example from the United States. The issue is acidic precipitation, an issue that has manifestations all over the world. In fact, in some parts of the world, this problem is not being effectively dealt with, it's growing. But in the United States, again, on the basis of a decade or so strong university and government-based research, appropriately informed policy to lead to clean air act amendments that used market forces, private sector forces, to decrease the release of sulfate and nitrate oxides into the atmosphere that caused acidic deposition. And indeed, as you can see from this graphic, acidic deposition has declined dramatically. And that's been driven by cost-effective policies. So progress at large geographic scales, from global to regional, is indeed possible and has been done.
When we think about smog and urban environments now, we think about Asian cities. And we've experienced some of that this week. But we don't have to think only about Asia. And we can look to the past in Europe, and the United States, and other parts of North America and Central and South America for examples of the same problem driven by the same process but solved. So here are just two examples.
So the so-called London fog-- really the London smog-- of 1952 killed an estimated 4,000 people in London in a period of a few days. That doesn't count the long-term morbidity and mortality that had occurred before and after. And yet, we see London today, perhaps not always as sparkling as this photograph suggests, but dramatically improved air quality in London, in New York City, in Chicago, in Cleveland, in Pittsburgh, in Los Angeles.
We have had these problems before and we have solved them in ways that have led to multiple benefits for human welfare and the welfare of the rest of the critters and plants on the planet.
A final example. Again, this one in the United States but with manifestations across the globe. In the 1960s and '70s, iconic organisms like the bald eagle in the United States were disappearing. In fact, bald eagles near extinction in the continental United States. Driven however, again, as in the previous examples, by rigorous research.
In this case, research results first met resistance, as they often do. But it was in the end compelling that the cause of this was reproductive failure driven by DDT in the environment. It was taken out of the environment by science-based policy. And indeed in the lower 48 in North America now, we have burgeoning populations of bald eagles and many other species that were similarly affected by DDT. So in all these cases university and other research based in government led to effective policy solutions.
So we have daunting challenges, we have a past that have some rational reasons for optimism. I want to now turn to what I take to be three things that we need to be and do in universities to more effectively have more successes like that in the future. So three keys that I believe are needed as transformational attitudes and practices in universities, the things that we in universities can control that would make us better partners for not only diagnosing but solving sustainability problems in the future.
So the first one is to recognize the universities have unparalleled intellectual capacity-- breadth of intellectual capacity, depth of intellectual. Capacity I heard a leader of a major NGO recently argue that universities have far more intellectual capacity than all governments, private sector corporations, and NGOs combined.
Of course in some ways we know that, that's obvious. But I think what isn't so obvious, or what we haven't used and leveraged effectively in universities, is to mobilize that intellectual capacity toward interdisciplinary collaborations and to target those interdisciplinary collaborations on what others have called use-inspired research, or Pasteur's quadrant.
So it's important that research be interdisciplinary because, as I tried to suggest already, these sustainability problems, whether you're talking about just one of the sustainable development goals or all 17, are complicated. That's the reason they're with us and they are persistent. They're complex. They do not easily submit to either analysis or solution from one perspective. They require multidisciplinary analysis to understand and they require that analysis to inform solutions.
So we've got to increasingly mobilize. As Cornell has in the past been very good at doing, we need to get better at organizing in multidisciplinary teams. And we need to be ready, enthusiastic about embracing our opportunities to address applied problems that may still have a very strong foundational or basic discovery kinds of research in them but have the potential to have a high impact in helping to solve sustainability problems. So we need to use the unparalleled intellectual breadth and depth that universities uniquely have.
Now, the second thing, though, is I think we need to recognize that there are often trade-offs in the world among sustainability goals, as is the case in all sorts of complicated problems that we face every day. The challenge is, for example, that as we try to provide more affordable and clean or renewable energy-- for example, if we try to do that with hydro power-- we often run the risk of diminishing the possibility of effectively addressing another important sustainable development goals, that in building dams we may harm our ability to accomplish protecting life below water.
I'll return to that specific kind of trade-off a little bit later. But I think the you can think about the areas that you are more familiar with and recognize that if we don't think of these goals as a system of goals, and if we try to attack them one at a time, we will likely end up with a less-than-optimal solution to all of them combined. So we need to recognize those trade-offs. And I want to just to illustrate a few trade-offs to get the point.
Here's some results from one of my own research projects with a group of interdisciplinary collaborators in which we're analyzing the global shipping network. So this is the path of all the ships on the planet for just one year. The general point here is that within five or fewer voyages almost every one of the 6,500 ports on the planet are connected either directly or indirectly. That's why we can so effectively deliver, using ships, 90% percent of the world's goods. All of us derive huge benefits from the global shipping network.
However, one of the negative side-effects that has not until recently been effectively managed is that those same ships in traversing the globe and connecting all the ports are delivering not only TVs, and clothes, and agricultural products, they're often also accidentally delivering a lot of species that can be harmful to other human development goals.
This particular example is a shellfish called Crepidula which is native to North America but has been transported to Asia where it is now increasingly harmful in aquicultural operations in China. That's just one of thousands of examples of the redistribution of species by this global shipping network. 2004 UN International Maritime Organization Ballast Water Agreement that just will come into effect this year will begin to address that problem so that we can continue to get the benefits of shipping while minimizing the negative side-effects.
There are many kinds of trade-offs. I want to return to the Montreal Protocol example. I presented it earlier as an unmitigated success. Turns out, not quite so easy.
The way in which we solved the ozone hole problem has ended up, in a way that was not anticipated, exacerbating climate change. The compounds that were used to replace the earlier ozone-destroying compounds turned out to be very powerful greenhouse gases. Another trade-off-- we solve one problem, accidentally increase the harm of climate change.
A 2016 amendment to the Montreal Protocol has now fixed that. So we can hope, unless we have not anticipated yet another trade-off, that we now do have an unmitigated success in the Montreal Protocol.
In the 19'60s and '70s, when we became aware that lead in gasoline-- which increased the performance of engines-- also led to the poisoning of children and wildlife, we removed lead from gasoline to solve one problem. One of the things that was done to enhance the performance of gasoline in the aftermath of that change, however, was to put a chemical in that ended up causing a great deal of water pollution when underground storage tanks leaked, that chemical called MTBE.
So in that case, we substituted water pollution for air pollution. We've now solved that problem as well and have a more sustainable supply of gasoline. But again, if we'd had comprehensive multidisciplinary analysis of some of these problems to begin with, perhaps they could have been more successes across the board to begin with.
I've already mentioned the trade-offs that exist often with the construction of dams. Dams give us many benefits-- increased navigation, recreation opportunities, flood control, water supply. But at the same time, they often increase seismicity, they decrease fisheries' production downstream, they decrease agricultural production downstream by cutting off the supply of sediments that rebuild soils. So we gain great benefits but produce side-effects that, at least decades ago, were not anticipated. But we are in a better position to understand them now.
There are interdisciplinary research groups at Cornell that are now analyzing both the placement of dams in watersheds, and the operation of dams, and working with government and corporate partners to try to lead to a future in which we do get that renewable energy but in ways that cause less harm to the other sustainable development goals.
One other example-- the US produces a great deal of maize and soybeans that help feed people in many parts of the world. That production occurs off the map in the US Midwest. Some of the consequences of that production occur in the Gulf Coast of North America-- that's the coast of Louisiana-- where the Mississippi River delivers to the Gulf of Mexico the excess nutrients that were applied to farm fields in Iowa, Indiana, into Illinois.
So again, huge benefits from increased production, but with side-effects of decreased livelihoods in seafood production in the Gulf of Mexico in the so-called dead zone. And there are hundreds, an increasing number of dead zones, around the planet produced by similar processes that increased food production in one place decreasing seafood production in another place. There are ways, as I will give you an example of earlier, to get those benefits but reduce those negative side-effects.
So those are a few examples of tradeoffs, the need to look at sustainable development goals as a system of goals that we have to be aware of when we pull one string are we going to affect another string. So universities, again, have that unparalleled intellectual capacity to be able to analyze such complex problems.
If we also do this third thing, which is working with partners, then we're going to be in a better position to use those intellectual resources not just to better understand problems but to help solve them. We in universities are rarely going to be playing to our strengths if we believe that we can solve the problems as well as merely-- or inform the problems.
What we need to do is work in partnership with others whose mission it is, either corporations who produce more sustainable products and practices or governments who change policies-- like those that I talked about earlier-- or NGOs that influence consumers, or government policies, or both. Those are the organizations whose mission it is to make the kinds of changes that will lead to the achievement of the sustainable development goals.
And we in universities have to recognize that we play a vital role in providing that intellectual capacity, but we can't be so arrogant as to think that we're going to solve these problems. We've got to partner with others to help solve these problems. We've got to have the humility to work with such organizations to co-create both the questions we're addressing and how the answers to this questions might be actually employed in solutions. We've got to work with the external partners in a co-creation and a handoff at some point of what we've learned to others-- other individuals, other organizations-- who can actually drive the next step of change. That requires many times a cultural change among us in universities.
If we're able to do those things-- recognize and marshal our intellectual capacity, deploy it to analyze the trade-offs that often exist among sustainability goals, and work with partners-- then we're going to be doing our part to achieve the quadruple bottom line, where profits, the planet, people, and our values and purposes will be satisfied. That's the vision that we're after.
And I want to close by giving you six vignettes of ongoing research projects that are interdisciplinary that begin at least to exemplify the kinds of principles or recommendations that I provided in the previous part of my talk.
The first really is in some ways very local. It's Ithaca, Ithaca, New York as an energy smart community. But the problems that are being addressed in this project are manifested all over the world, and especially strongly in Asia, for example. This is a project, or really a group of projects, that are being led by engineer Todd Cowen, who's the energy faculty director in the Atkinson Center at Cornell.
Todd has brought about 25 people together from across the campus-- from the social scientists, to engineers, to science-- to understand and work with the private sector-- this is a global energy giant, Iberdrola, based in Spain-- to do experiments and virtual experiments to point the way toward a more sustainable electricity grid in the future, a grid that cost-effectively incorporates increasing numbers of renewable energy supplies, wind and solar, and incorporates increased storage capacity at the household level, in electric vehicle fleets or the light, and points the way toward how the private sector and government, both of whom are involved in this project already, can work toward implementation of practices involving better information, smart metering to communities, better technology to reduce peak demand of electricity and supply the electricity that's needed with more renewable resources.
So that's a set of problems that's being tackled in Ithaca and Cornell as a living laboratory. But again, the same problems are manifested around the globe. So there's potential for solutions that are derived here to scale to global application.
I mentioned earlier the trade-off of increased production of corn and soybeans in the American Midwest leading to a loss of livelihoods and seafood capture and production in the Gulf of Mexico, a problem manifest along the coast of Asia and everywhere around the world. Harold van Es, in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell, and his collaborators have produced a system that allow farmers to better measure and forecast the need for fertilizer production so that we can continue to get the benefits of high production but lower the negative side-effects in producing dead zones.
That technology has been licensed or replicated by many of the companies illustrated here. The results of that interdisciplinary research, again, are having broad geographic reach and are self-sustaining because they drive increased profits for farmers.
Drew Harvell at Cornell is leading a team, with partners listed at the bottom here, to both understand and help guide the governments of Indonesia and Myanmar on improved capture fisheries, particularly in coastal coral reef communities that can be so productive and so essential for the life of indigenous population.
Shanjun Li and Oliver Gao at Cornell are working on related-- and both large-- related projects addressing the problems of increased urbanization and air pollution that I mentioned earlier by analyzing transportation systems, fuel systems, developing the understanding of what kinds of systems cause the pollution, how those systems might be changed to, again, continue to drive the benefits of transportation but without the negative side-effects on human health and the environment of increasing air pollution.
The final example I want to give illustrates one dimension of the existential and increasingly urgent challenge that climate change poses. This is a project led by Kasim at Cornell in the Department of Natural Resources in which he's got a team working with people in local communities in Afghanistan and Tajikistan who have traditionally kept track of the seasons with a calendar based on body parts, illustrated on the right here. But that system is increasingly confounded by increasingly out-of-sync environmental changes driven by climate that produces different responses in the organisms and the natural world on which they depend.
So he is doing a study to understand how the system has worked and to help these communities, in a sense, recalibrate their clocks in order to put their natural rhythms of production and harvest from nature more in sync with an environment that is different than the one that those cultures used to experience.
So many of these themes, these examples, will be taken up later today in the rest of this conference. So I invite you to reflect on these issues as you hear more and more about them from other speakers and panels for the rest of the day. And I am delighted to be part of a community of experts and partners from Cornell and many other institutions that are working together. And of course we need to work together with communities, like-minded communities, around the world to help try to achieve this vision that was so well-articulated by the Brundtland Commission in 1987. Thank you very much.
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On April 7, 2017 David M. Lodge delivered a keynote address entitled "Global Sustainability Challenges, Progress, and Opportunities" as part of the conference, Sustainability in Asia: Partnerships for Research and Implementation, which took place April 6-7 at the Cordis Hotel, Kowloon, Hong Kong. The conference brought together international scholars, scientists, practitioners, and policy influencers from the United States and Asia who are working to advance sustainable practices and solutions in the face of climate change, increased energy needs, and the specter of slower economic growth.
David M. Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo director of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, is an internationally recognized conservation biologist, the president of the Ecological Society of America, and the founder and former director of the University of Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative. One of the world’s leading experts on aquatic invasive species, Lodge has extensive research experience in freshwater ecology, invasive species biology and bioeconomics, ecological risk analysis, global changes and biodiversity, and environmental ethics and policy.