AAAS Diary: A Special Report

Reporter Graeme Stemp-Morlock blogs from the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Francisco.

The annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, commonly called the “triple-A, S”) is the World Series of science.  The AAAS publishes the journal Science (the New York Yankees of scientific publishing), and for its conference there are presentations from over a thousand heavy hitters and MVPs (most valuable physicists of course).

This year’s theme is “Science and Technology for Sustainable Well-Being” with a host of talks on everything from environmental literacy in elementary schools to sustainable seafood production. 

The opening pitch was thrown by John Holdren, president of the AAAS and an expert on energy and environment issues at the Woods Hole Research Center and Harvard University. Holdren described what he sees as the four key challenges for sustainable well-being:  meeting the basic needs of the poor, managing competition for natural resources, mastering the energy-economy dilemma, and a nuclear weapon free world.

One of the key challenges will be finding a solution to the energy-economy dilemma. “The sustainability problem with the business as usual energy path is not that we’re running out of energy, there’s actually plenty of energy out there,” said Holdren.  “The sustainability problem is rather that we are running out of cheap and easy liquid fuels to put in our cars and planes, and we’re running out of environment.”

As well, Holdren addressed the issue of nuclear weapon proliferation, an issue he knows well having accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the Pugwash conferences.  “If possession of nuclear weapons does not tend toward zero, in the long run it will tend towards universality and the chances of use will tend towards 100%  Prohibition is not just a practical but also a legal and moral necessity.”

Finally, Holdren called on indvidual scientists to “read more and think more about fields and problems outside their normal area and specialization, improve their communication skills so that they can convey the relevant essence of their understandings to members of the public and to policymakers, they need to seek out avenues to do that, and I believe that every scientist and technologist should tithe 10% of his or her professional time and effort to working to increase the benefits of science and technology for the human condition and to decrease the liabilities.  The challenges demand no less.”

Audience reaction to Holdren’s final comments were unanimous:  home run.

-Graeme Stemp-Morlock


This is really interesting!
I think everyone should listen to what Holden is saying about nuclear proliferation!