Obama, Science, and Consumption

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President Obama spoke to the National Academy of Sciences reversing the isolation of science from the Bush White House. One notable line was the ad lib addition of a caveat to the young to be more than consumers. The cause for sustainability and a shift from our hyper-consumerism would be greatly enhanced if President Obama would address this topic with more than an aside. Without some major shift in the culture, all the science in the world cannot reverse the growing unsustainability. While global climate change is arguably the biggest issue, it is only one of many. Science can do little to satisfy the existential concerns of humankind, without which sustainability will continue to be only a distant vision. But, in any case, this shift in emphasis from that of the last President is most welcome. We may begin to do some necessary fixing in a timely manner.

America’s young people will rise to the challenge if given the opportunity — if called upon to join a cause larger than themselves. And we’ve got evidence. The average age in NASA’s mission control during the Apollo 17 mission was just 26. I know that young people today are ready to tackle the grand challenges of this century

So I want to persuade you to spend time in the classroom, talking — and showing -young people what it is that your work can mean, and what it means to you. Encourage your university to participate in programs to allow students to get a degree in scientific fields and a teaching certificate at the same time. Think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, like science festivals, robotics competitions, and fairs that encourage young people to create, build, and invent — to be makers of things [added extemporaneously: not just consumers of things.]

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