"I can repeat the question, but am I bright enough to ask it?"


2003

"What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them?"


Accelerating the rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere by profligate use of Iraq's vast oil supplies, together with the continuing deforestation of the Amazon, will not only turn the Amazon basin into a parched desert but plunge the entire mid-West into prolonged drought, resulting in famine in your own land. History would then judge you as an apocalyptic Burning Bush, bringing the scourge of parching fire to your country and its people.

Brian Goodwin

Dear Mr Bush,

I am pleased to have this opportunity of sharing with you some of the insights from science that are relevant to the situation you face at home and abroad. Let me start by reminding you of something you learned at school that holds the key to your own and everyone else's future. It's a chemical process that looks like this : 2H2 + O2 -> 2H2O + energy.

Remember? Hydrogen burns with oxygen to produce water and energy. Water and energy are the key to the future, as I'm sure you realise.

You learned from the oil business that whoever controls energy controls the world. You are about to seize the billions of barrels of liquid energy that lie beneath the sands and the coastal waters of Iraq in order to secure the future for your country and gain control of the uncertain politics of this fractious global village in which we now live. However, this isn't a good policy and I want to persuade you of a much better alternative.

Apart from the international political turmoil and increased terrorist activity that this action will provoke, there are direct consequences that will follow for the future of the US . Unrestricted access to all that oil for US industry, with no effective Kyoto-type constraints which you have refused to accept, will accelerate CO2 build-up in the earth's atmosphere to a rate that guarantees a sudden failure of rainfall over the bread basket of the American mid-West. We now know from studies by your own scientists that it is the remarkable volume of water transpired by trees in the Amazon basin that produces the climatic conditions for rain to fall in Kansas and the mid-Western states.

Accelerating the rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere by profligate use of Iraq's vast oil supplies, together with the continuing deforestation of the Amazon, will not only turn the Amazon basin into a parched desert but plunge the entire mid-West into prolonged drought, resulting in famine in your own land. History would then judge you as an apocalyptic Burning Bush, bringing the scourge of parching fire to your country and its people.

The alternative that science provides for you comes through the blessing of water. The little formula that I reminded you of contains all the answers. You start with water and end with water, pure and unpolluting. Use the sun's energy via solar panels, wind, wave and hydroelectric power to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. Then use the hydrogen to drive industry, cars and other means of transport. The science and technology is all there, and the countries that develop this industrial potential will lead the recovery from the recession that is now deepening.

As we undertake this technological and economic transformation, we will need to make other major adjustments to our world-view. However, just as science has shown how to become sustainable in energy use, it is providing the vision needed to follow ecological principles, resulting in no waste or pollution in industrial production, consistent with the principles of the hydrogen economy. And, most important of all, there is a shift occurring both in sc silence and in society that is taking us from preoccupation with quantities of goods to concern about quality of life.

We have learned through science and technology how to turn the bountiful resources of the earth into vast quantities of goods, enough to provide for all if we share. However, in the process we have lost sight of the qualities on which our lives depend, which make them worthwhile and meaningful : health and well-being, relationships, community living, sharing, caring for the planet and all of its inhabitants, human and non human alike.

We have tried to substitute quantities for qualities and found that this produces poverty in the quality of our relationships, in the meaning and value of our lives. Science is now expanding so that qualities of persons, communities, cultures, ecosystems, landscapes, farms and animals, the Amazon, the planet , are primary, with a focus on health, creativity and meaning. A science of qualities is now developing in response to the recognised limitations of our science of quantities, to refocus our attention on the qualities and values of life. It's the path into the future. Why not take it? Then you'll go down in history not as Burning Bush but as Bush the Bringer of Universal Sustainability through Hydrogen.

Prof Brian Goodwin
Schumacher College
Dartington, Totnes, Devon, UK

Author of How The Leopard Changed Its Spots: The Evolution of Complexity; (with Richard Sole) Signs if Life: How Complexity Pervades Biology

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