On Wednesday, April 18, 2007, Northrop Grumman President and Chief Operating Officer Wes Bush addressed the EcoVision 2007 Conference in Washington, D.C. Below are his remarks.
Ingenuity, Policy and Solutions
EcoVision is an important event and I am very proud to be a part of it. Environmental issues have been front and center for some time now. And let’s be honest – they can be contentious.The debates associated with them can get pretty hot. In fact, those debates have recently been generating more heat than light. And too often, that heat has crippled the search for solutions. This conference seeks to reverse the equation. This gathering is designed to leave the heat to other forums, and instead, to concentrate on common ground and on creating the path to real solutions.
And there most certainly is common ground. All sides agree that, like the universe it is a part of, our planet is dynamic; we all agree that the changes our Earth experiences have profound effects on we who live on it; and we all recognize that it is in the best interests of our species to understand as much about our world as possible.
Agreement on how best to find real solutions is perhaps harder to accomplish, but I would like to suggest that there is a fundamental premise on which we can agree. Good solutions can only be determined when we have a confluence of three critical endeavors.
First, we need to develop highly accurate data and corresponding models of our environment to provide the understanding needed to drive solutions, and to provide the basis for assessing potential solutions. Second, we need the application of human ingenuity to create the solutions based on this improved understanding of these complex environmental issues. And third, we need a policy framework that will help us decide how best to apply our nation’s resources to accomplish these outcomes. Any one of these efforts is futile without the others, and all three are needed to successfully address the challenges before us. This is certainly not an easy prescription, but our nation has addressed similar challenges in the past.
Let’s start with the first of these endeavors – the development of accurate data and models of our environment. Here we have a running start. I think most scientists would agree that it is possible to substantially enhance our understanding of our environment. To do that, we will have to apply today’s technologies in a systematic way – a way that will allow us to make extensive observations, build highly dynamic models, and test the results rigorously enough to build our confidence in our ability to understand our incredibly complex environment. We have made tremendous progress in the last few decades – one simply has to look at the improvements in weather forecasting to see evidence of it. But large scale solutions will require even more advanced information and modeling capabilities – capabilities that call for one, perhaps more, big steps forward to realize. This will require investments in these areas commensurate with these tasks. The technology itself is ready to support this effort. Sensor technologies, computing capabilities, and processing speeds all have reached the point that, if appropriately applied, can support this objective. The challenge, of course, is that this requires real investment. I’ll return to this topic a little later.
Let me move to the second part of my premise. It may seem obvious that the solutions to the problems of Global Change must originate in human ingenuity. But if you accept that the highest expression of human ingenuity is science and technology, then that assertion may not be readily agreed by all. This is because there is an orthodoxy in many circles that holds science and technology as the culprit of our environmental situation, rather than a source of solutions. Just think of all the negative press the automobile receives and you will understand my point.
Yes, automobiles pollute, as do factories, certain kinds of development, and many other forms of human activity. And yet, I think that orthodoxy is wrong because it ignores context. I suspect it comes from the stair-step nature of human progress. For every problem that science and technology solves, it seems to leave new ones in its wake.
James Watt’s steam engine ushered in the industrial revolution, which gave work to millions of people at a time when starvation and grinding poverty were pervasive facts of life. But along with the jobs came a population boom in the cities that held the factories. Overcrowding, disease, social problems and deplorable working conditions ensued.
But it would be human ingenuity that would solve those problems. A good example occurred in mid-19th century London when a severe outbreak of cholera occurred. Through careful tracking, measurement, and analysis Dr. John Snow solved the outbreak by pinpointing its source at the now-famous Broad Street water pump. In doing so, he became the father of epidemiology and public health sciences.
Cleaner water and urban sanitation eliminated cholera, but also reduced our resistance to the polio virus … an illness that was not formidable in the days of open sewage and filthy water. Polio was a new terror, but it would be solved by Dr. [Jonas] Salk performing research at the University of Pittsburgh.
Problems solved. Problems created. Problems solved.
The population boom in the cities was matched with a boom in horse populations. In the 1890s, the people of New York City shared their town with 170,000 horses. They pulled carriages and street cars, but they also produced 2,500 tons of manure every day. The manure spread tetanus and the flies spread typhoid. And the 15,000 dead horse carcasses per year were often just tossed into the rivers and bays.
We have long forgotten that at one time those who lived in our cities welcomed the automobile as an answer to a prayer.
Today we view the automobile as an environmental problem. I wouldn’t try to predict when or how the drawbacks of internal combustion will be solved, but I will bet that it will be human ingenuity that solves them, and that those solutions may, in turn, create new problems that will then be solved, in turn, by new science and technology.
The third part of the premise I suggested concerns the role of policy. This is not the Wild West. Practical science and technology cannot exist absent the guidance of good, clear policy. In all the examples I just outlined, the solutions of science and technology were either hobbled or accelerated by policy; policies concerning child labor, worker protections, criminal justice, public funding and taxation, building codes, public health and disease prevention, and many others.
And so it is today.
The company where I’m privileged to work is a technology company – primarily security technology. I will tell you that we view the issues associated with our environment as a fundamental matter of long-term security; an aspect of our security as important as the other aspects of national security that we address. The quality of the policies that surround security technologies has proven to be as important as the technologies themselves. For example, many years ago when the nation was first establishing its strategic deterrent, good policies were put in place that leveraged the technologies of the day to tremendous effect. They called for a comprehensive, multilayered deterrent that included a triad of land-based missiles, submarine-based missiles, and bombers. In addition, this triad was to be supplemented by strategic reconnaissance using space-based and other sensors. All of this required an enormous investment. But the nation’s policy toward dealing with this security issue enabled astounding advancements in technologies directed at creating the solutions.
Good policy is clear policy – clarity about objectives; clarity about investments and funding; clarity about the application of key human resources. The clarity of those policies allowed the government-industry team to focus its research and development efforts – and dollars – which allowed for speed and efficiency in development and deployment. In that case, good, clear policy helped make two plus two equal five. The result was a strategic deterrent that our adversaries could neither match nor cope with.
These lessons from history are very important as we contemplate the path to solutions at this conference. They can help us assess our progress toward our common goal: The right solutions based on a solid understanding of the problems we must solve.
Is there a place where these lessons are understood and applied? As a taxpayer, I will tell you that I am very proud of the work being done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA], and the leadership in setting our course that [Vice] Admiral [Conrad] Lautenbacher has brought to our community of dedicated people working to build the path to solutions. NOAA’s efforts often remind me of the work of Dr. Snow, the English doctor who helped eradicate cholera. The NOAA team understands that a problem must be carefully observed, measured, tracked and analyzed before a solution can be identified. And they understand that this is about much more than just our nation. Under Admiral Lautenbacher’s leadership, NOAA is building the framework to ensure that the capabilities of many nations can be best directed toward the observation and modeling of our world and its symptoms.
But while I am very impressed with all that the NOAA team is undertaking, I also know that it cannot accomplish this grand objective on its current path. The magnitude of the challenge before us unfortunately is far larger than our nation’s current funding commitment. We lack the national policy consensus needed to get the basic data-gathering systems in place – the systems necessary to the solutions we need.
Today, that national policy consensus lags far behind our current capabilities. It acts like a brake on our race for solutions. I’ll bet the architects of our strategic deterrent from several decades ago would cringe to know that the fundamental earth-observation technologies needed by NOAA have been developed, proven, and they are ready to go … and that NOAA merely awaits a national commitment, and the corresponding investment, to build the systems and deploy them.
The observational data that NOAA must collect is the predicate for matching solutions to problems. I suspect that this is actually the easy part in the quest for good policy. Once real, validated models are in place, and once those models have secured broad scientific support, I think we will see the beginning of some of the most difficult debates yet to come. And that will be a critical juncture for all of humankind. For how we choose to solve the problems associated with Global Change will largely foreordain the result. We will need to take care not to give in to the easy but futile expedient of problem solving by edict. The solutions we choose to implement will have to be solutions that are consistent with our nature as humans and as Americans. As such, they will have to harness, not reject, the ingenuity that marks our species. The solutions will have to harness, not reject, the free market system that has made our nation so prosperous. Those solutions will work best that spring from what we do best, which is innovate. Before any of this can happen, we must reject the orthodoxy I mentioned at the start of my remarks – the orthodoxy that would despair at the prospects for solutions based on science and technology.
We must reject it because human ingenuity is the hero of mankind’s story, not its villain. It is also a genie that has never known the inside of a bottle, and it never will. As such, human ingenuity is a priceless commodity, but one that must be managed. This is why careful, clear policy is so important to the solutions of science and technology. Human ingenuity has been a continuous tale of problems solved, problems created. But the stair-steps have indisputably gone upward on the graph of the human condition. Properly channeled with good, clear policy, this force offers us hope, not despair, as we seek solutions to this pressing problem of our time. And this conference marks an important milestone in moving us forward.