Panel III
Engineers and Policy Makers

Partners in the Development and Implementation of Solutions

Engineers can provide a unique perspective on complex problems. This panel explores the rationale for engineers working closely with policy makers and a growing number of other stakeholders to address global problems.



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Engineering and Environmental Challenges: Technical Symposium on Earth Systems Engineering Panel III Engineers and Policy Makers Partners in the Development and Implementation of Solutions Engineers can provide a unique perspective on complex problems. This panel explores the rationale for engineers working closely with policy makers and a growing number of other stakeholders to address global problems.

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Engineering and Environmental Challenges: Technical Symposium on Earth Systems Engineering Gaining a Seat at the Policy Table ANITA K. JONES Sustaining Earth systems in the face of projected population growth is a global challenge that will require many different kinds of partnerships. For several reasons, these partnerships will be difficult to forge, difficult to maintain, and will have difficulty being proactive. First, they will involve individuals with very different kinds of expertise, including engineering, ethics, social sciences, legal systems, medicine, physical sciences, politics, and industry. The cultures of these individuals—even their ways of knowing—may differ greatly. An ethicist and an engineer, for example, reason in different ways and from different premises. Therefore, discussions—sometimes extended discussions—will be necessary to ensure effective communication. Second, these partnerships will require cooperation among multinational institutions that typically have a limited understanding, and are even suspicious of, different cultural norms and objectives. These institutions are also subject to outside influences that could force them to change their positions. Third, these partnerships will have to implement plans and investments over decades, and they will have to maintain public support throughout. Long-term international agreements will require not only that nations remain stable but also that they maintain their focus on Earth systems. Governments must be willing and empowered to negotiate and fulfill commitments. One recent change—the computer—bodes well for communication among people with different kinds of expertise. While science and engineering have long used tools and instruments, computers are now also being used by humanists and other nonscientists. Historians, politicians, and theologians are creating collections of data and, more importantly, using data to validate competing hypotheses and replicate experiments. In other words, they are moving closer to using

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Engineering and Environmental Challenges: Technical Symposium on Earth Systems Engineering scientific methods. These shared approaches to problem solving will make it much easier for technical experts and humanists to understand each other. Unfortunately, I do not see a comparable trend among institutions, which have developed over time in different ways, depending on their cultures. These institutions have very different approaches to problems. For example, one prominent U.S. institution, the Congress, often takes actions that optimize the interests of local constituencies rather than considering global outcomes. My experience while working at the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) illustrates these problems. In my position at DOD, I was responsible for the science and technology program. It was well known that the former Soviet Union had invested heavily in military research over several decades and had surely learned some things that the U.S. research community, which had made different investment choices, had not discovered. I, therefore, resolved to improve cooperation between the DOD and the Russian Ministry of Defense—at the level of completely unclassified basic research. Because a substantial portion of military research in any country has civilian applications, I was certain that important areas of completely unclassified research would be easy to find. This had already been done in the area of civilian technologies. The Gore-Chernomyrdin agreement, brokered by Jack Gibbons and others in the White House, had established a U.S.-Russian joint commission on economic and technological cooperation. Why couldn’t we also cooperate in military research? The short version of the story is that, although the United States and Russia did agree to cooperate on a few projects, widespread cooperative research (which also would have moved hard currency into Russia at a time when it was sorely needed) was very difficult to arrange for two reasons. First, because the Soviet Union had always bought and paid for all research and any ensuing development of products for market, no Russian case law had been developed to cover intellectual property—to determine who owns what and when. The Russians had no effective guidelines for evaluating their intellectual property. For example, DOD offered to pay the Russians to perform experiments with a novel prototype of a cargo aircraft they had built. The aircraft, known as wing-in-ground, can skim the ocean or ground relying on air-ground effect, much like a hydroplaning aircraft. The United States had not built such a prototype because of the high cost, but was willing to support testing of the Russian prototype. At first, following their historical precedents, the Russians felt they could not value the experiments at less than the full cost of developing the prototype. Even after a more reasonable valuation of the proposed research had been made, getting a signed agreement proved to be extraordinarily difficult. The agreement would have represented a partnership between the very ministries that had been in direct conflict for so many years, and even high-ranking individuals were not sure they had the authority to cement such a relationship. In addition, they were concerned that signing an agreement might come back to haunt them. I suspect that solving our most difficult Earth systems problems will pose

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Engineering and Environmental Challenges: Technical Symposium on Earth Systems Engineering similar challenges. Governments with no histories of working cooperatively with other governments, no established processes for conducting negotiations, and no clear lines of delegated authority that allow high-ranking government officials to take action with confidence will have to become partners on long-term projects. So establishing Earth systems partnerships among countries with different legal systems, cultures, economic capacities, and levels of sophistication could prove to be very difficult. The climate in which we must establish partnerships to address crucial issues of Earth systems engineering is characterized by (1) developing nations that are not yet set in their ways and may be open to new ideas; (2) the prominence of new kinds of organizations; and (3) challenges to the strengths of nation states from global communications and other outside influences. The bright spot in this scenario is the technical nature of the problems at hand. Because Earth systems engineering is based on technical determinations, technical experts will play a major role in forging international partnerships. Unfortunately, in the United States, engineers and scientists have historically not held many seats at the policy-making table, but we can work to change that situation. In many developing countries, the situation is more fluid, and they could be encouraged to include a much higher proportion of engineers and scientists in high-level policy discussions on Earth systems. A large number of these engineers and scientists have been educated in the United States or other Western or Asian countries and are already our known colleagues. When opportunities arise, the U.S. engineering and science communities should support more technical participation in policy-making decisions in their countries. When engineers and scientists from developing countries need information and analyses that are available in the United States, the National Academies can support them by offering to share such information to ensure that individuals in high-level positions in policy-making institutions are technically educated. These individuals could advocate policies with a firm basis in engineering and science. The United States can also build collegial relationships to enable U.S. engineers and scientists to become consultative resources to ensure that engineering advice is based on more information and analysis than a developing country may be able to afford to sponsor. If engineers and scientists can offer sound answers to a wide range of technology-based problems, and not just Earth systems engineering, they could establish their credibility and reinforce support for their participation in policy decisions. A good example of the kind of cooperation that I advocate is described in the 1999 NRC report, Water for the Future: The West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel, and Jordan, which chronicles a border-spanning technical study of sustainable water resources by academies from Israel, Jordan, Palestine, and the United States. Outreach programs, such as the recent visit by the presidents of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering to Iran,

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Engineering and Environmental Challenges: Technical Symposium on Earth Systems Engineering is another step in the right direction. The creation of new venues for cooperation helps. Examples include the long standing Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences and the InterAcademy Council, which is intended to function as an international version of the National Research Council. The National Academy of Engineering also sponsors a series of programs called Frontiers of Engineering, which brings together young engineers in diverse disciplines from different countries to meet and exchange ideas. In addition to meetings in the United States, Frontiers also sponsors bilateral programs with Germany and Japan, and more are on the drawing board. A variety of other institutions, including nongovernmental organizations and multinational companies, will be participants in Earth systems partnerships. Internet-based virtual communities, which are not limited by national boundaries, may also play a larger role—particularly in the environmental arena. Meanwhile the public, especially in developed countries, is also becoming more active in organized and ad hoc ways. Woe to any corporation that appears to the Western public to be acting irresponsibly. Because Earth systems partnerships are so difficult to establish and maintain, it would seem wise for us to pay particular attention to problems that can be addressed by limited partnerships, such as issues that are limited to local or regional constituencies. Of course, regional issues can be very complex; witness efforts to reengineer the Everglades or to manage underground water reservoirs in the Middle East. Nevertheless, regional issues may be more tractable than national or international issues. The issue of water seems to be a timely choice to demonstrate the effectiveness of limited partnerships. As difficult as questions about water may be, they involve fewer constituencies, than, say, managing the Earth’s carbon cycle, which crosses all national boundaries. Nuclear fallout and airborne pollution don’t ask for a visa when crossing national borders. Even as we address these truly global issues, we should give some priority to addressing problems that ought to be slightly more manageable. Half the world’s fresh surface water and near-surface groundwater is claimed for some use. Because water moves slowly, it is a local—or regional—issue. Because it is essential to life, a threat to a nation’s water autonomy is an immediate cause for war. The world population is expected to grow from 6 billion to 10 billion in just a few generations, making it critical that water resources be carefully managed. The research community can play a pivotal role in these efforts and can even frame the debate, because the technical community develops the measurement tools, defines the experiments, and wields assessment techniques to determine the status of this Earth system. Analysis of surface and shallow groundwater is relatively well understood, the sensors for determining changes in aboveground and underground reservoirs exist, and the modeling of water ecosystems is reasonably advanced. The way the research community addresses a problem frames its discussion. Consider, for example, how the subject of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions has

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Engineering and Environmental Challenges: Technical Symposium on Earth Systems Engineering been addressed in this conference. One presentation was focused on historical data, giving both past and predicted emissions, showing changes in the contributions of generating nations over time and leading one to ask what burden each nation should bear in the future. This inclusive approach raises the issue of remediation not simply in the context of future generations of CO2, but also in terms of past generations. Discussions that focus solely on future expected emissions imply that all future generators of CO2 emissions will start from a common position, which is obviously not the case. In addition to framing the debate, the engineering community maintains “engineering ethics.” Young engineers are trained to make choices to ensure safety and integrity within the constraints of the project at hand. This is an example of microethics. Macroethics would entail determining the ethical implications of an entire engineering project on the Earth as a whole. To ensure that engineers are trained in macro- as well as micro-ethics, our educational programs must teach skills for solving problems, not just at the technical level but also through international cooperation. Engineering design courses should deal not just with the design of a widget but also with the policy implications of interactions between engineered systems and the global environment. (For a more detailed discussion of micro- and macroethics, see [The Bridge 31(4):35–38], Bill Wulf’s address at this year’s Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Engineering.) Finally, engineers can perform the research and refine the technologies that can contribute to Earth systems solutions. We can build the necessary tools and techniques, particularly assessment techniques, including developing models of Earth systems and setting standards for collecting and assessing data. The United States has a fine record of stepping up to meet new challenges by mobilizing government funding and the resources and talents of the technical community. When the nation was young, states such as Virginia and Illinois invested in canals, and later regional railroads, to stimulate commerce. And President Lincoln and Congress allocated bonds and land grants for the construction of the railroad connecting the East to the Pacific. That funding combined with innovative and heroic engineering created America’s transcontinental railroad. And during World War II, the science and engineering community provided new knowledge and technology that materially contributed to winning the war, again with government funding. Earth systems problems pose a global, rather than a national, challenge. This nation must once again mobilize sustained funding and long-term technical activity to address these problems. Just as we have risen to meet past challenges, we must formulate an approach for meeting present challenges. But engineers must be sitting at the policy-making table to have the greatest effect. Too often engineers and scientists have been up in the gallery looking down when policy decisions were made, rather than helping to frame the policy debate. We also must help our colleagues in developing nations to secure seats at their policy tables.

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